Will the other Claremont colleges defend free speech?

  • Claremont McKenna College has punished students who sought to prevent free speech; but what about the other schools in the Claremont Colleges?

When Claremont McKenna College (CMC) announced it would punish seven students who blockaded the entrances to Heather Mac Donald’s speech in April, it did something few colleges have shown the backbone to undertake: it enforced campus policy in defense of free speech.

In April, President Hiram Chodosh said protesters had engaged in behavior that “violates College policy” and promised they “will be held accountable.” In July, the College suspended five students and placed two on conduct probation.

"Claremont McKenna deserves some credit."   

Claremont McKenna deserves some credit. I recently offered one-and-a-half cheers; to earn all three, Claremont should have prevented the blockade in the first place and kept order during Mac Donald’s talk. But at least the college followed through on President Chodosh’s vows to hold some students accountable.

We should now turn our attention to the other six institutions that, along with Claremont McKenna College, make up the Claremont University Consortium: Pitzer College, Pomona College, Claremont Graduate University, Keck Graduate Institute, Harvey Mudd College, and Scripps College.

One hundred seventy students participated in the protest against Mac Donald. Claremont McKenna identified twelve of the 170 as its own students, of which it punished seven. The remainder 158 either could not be identified, or were not Claremont McKenna students.

Where did these other speech obstructors come from? According to CMC, some are students at the other Claremont consortium colleges. It claims to have sent the deans at these colleges “evidence of policy violations” by their students, and asked them “to review this evidence under their own conduct processes.”

The school has banned four non-CMC students from visiting campus on the grounds that they “played significant roles in the blockade.” But it is up to the administrators of the other colleges to take steps to suspend, fine, or otherwise punish students who broke college policy by disrupting Mac Donald’s talk.

Whether the other Claremont colleges follow President Chodosh’s lead in executing punishments will be a serious test of their commitment to free speech. A mob of protesters, many of them students, tore down a fence, swarmed police officers, and formed human chains across entrances out of spite for Mac Donald’s right to speak.

Suspected policy-breakers should be given a fair investigation, with an opportunity to present any exculpatory evidence. But breaking college rules should come with consequences—especially when those rules concern the protection of intellectual freedom, a central purpose of higher education.

I asked each of the Claremont Consortium institutions whether they have investigated their students’ behavior during the April blockade.

Pitzer, Pomona, and Scripps are currently looking at evidence of potential student policy violations. Harvey Mudd College will review the evidence in the fall, when classes resume.

Claremont Graduate University and Keck Graduate Institute, however, believe none of their students participated in the protests against Mac Donald.

This means at least four of the Claremont institutions may have students who violated college policy.

They should know that we’re watching. Whether they investigate fairly and promptly, enforce order, and punish policy-breakers will show whether they respect free speech.

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Rachelle Peterson
National Association of Scholars | National Association of Scholars

The National Association of Scholars is a network of scholars and citizens united by a commitment to academic freedom, disinterested scholarship, & excellence in American higher education.

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