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Teresa Mull: Colleges Are Creating a Generation of Bigots

Last week, people at the University of California-Berkeley (they weren’t solely students) violently protested a speech scheduled to be delivered by conservative journalist and Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos. The event was canceled after the group caused $100,000 worth of damage and a Milo fan was pepper-sprayed in the face.

“Black-clad protesters wearing masks threw commercial-grade fireworks and rocks at police,” CNN.com reported. “Some even hurled Molotov cocktails that ignited fires. They also smashed windows of the student union center on the Berkeley campus where the Yiannopoulos event was to be held.”

According to CNN, “The university blamed ‘150 masked agitators’ for the unrest, saying they had come to campus to disturb an otherwise peaceful protest.”

But in a statement, UC Berkeley distanced itself from Yiannopoulos, saying his “views, tactics, and rhetoric are profoundly contrary to those of the campus.”

UC Berkeley is a public university, which means it receives loads of taxpayer money. Why then does the university profess it has “views, tactics, and rhetoric” contrary to Yiannopoulos or in keeping with anyone else? 

College campuses, especially those financed by the public, are supposed to be places that promote the free expression of ideas and encourage new, diverse, interesting, challenging, and/or unique thought. UC Berkeley basically said, “Yiannopoulos isn’t liberal. We don’t like him, but I guess we should have let him speak to keep up the illusion of diversity because someone was pepper-sprayed in the face and it made the news.”

President Donald Trump has called for UC Berkeley’s federal funding to be cut off. Though that’s unlikely to happen, it could mean the loss of $9 billion annually. That’s right, about $9 billion—with a B—of our hard-earned tax dollars go to a school that declares a conservative’s outlook on the world “profoundly contrary” to theirs.

The Los Angeles Times, in an attempt to paint Berkeley as the victim in all this, lamented “advances in solar-based sustainable energy” would be lost if Trump gets his way.

Solar energy is one item on a long list of feel-good, left-wing agenda items public universities teach students everyone is supposed to accept as gospel truth. Solar monstrosities cost an arm and a leg, are unreliable, require tons of maintenance, and only work well half the day (at best). But more importantly, even if they were effective forms of energy development, what does that have to do with the free-speech concerns expressed by Trump and others who are tired of watching publicly funded universities used as propaganda centers for the left? And why can’t the government find another university, one that values free speech, to give tax dollars for solar-energy development?

What happened at Berkeley is representative of a disturbing trend on college campuses that is becoming far too common. As reported in 2016 by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the prevalence of disinvitations of college speakers is increasing. 

Students at Berkeley and outside protesters, of course, have the right to protest Yiannopoulos. The spirited discourse of opposing views is what makes college and living in the United States fun, exciting, and interesting. But protesters don’t have the right to obstruct speakers physically, harass listeners, pepper-spray people, or vandalize property, all of which now seems to be a near-weekly occurrence. 

“At DePaul University, Milo Yiannopoulos and Ben Shapiro were banned due to ‘inflammatory speech’ and ‘safety concerns’; the administration even threatened to arrest Shapiro if he set foot on campus again,” Kassy Dillion recently reported in The Hill. “At Kellogg Community College, three students representing Young Americans for Liberty were arrested for handing out pocket Constitutions in a public space on campus. At UC Irvine, a pro-Palestinian group attempted to violently shut down an event sponsored by Students Supporting Israel.” The list goes on and on.

Much can be said about those who oppose Yiannopoulos and others with differing views on college campuses, but one thing is clear: They all believe physically harming, intimidating, and/or silencing opposing views is valid, and it’s not just the nameless, faceless protesters dressed in black. As FIRE reports, “Nearly half of America’s top colleges maintain speech codes that blatantly violate First Amendment standards.” That’s scary stuff.

Colleges should be places where free thought is encouraged, not met with riots in the streets. For UC Berkeley to declare it has an agenda contrary to Yiannopoulos is telling. It’s obvious the modern campus climate is, and has been for a long time, a progressive one. But if we don’t allow our young people to exchange rational ideas in a peaceful manner in a place that’s supposedly dedicated to learning, what hope does our country—one that is founded on the principle of “ensuring that there is no prohibition on … abridging the freedom of speech”—have left?

Teresa Mull (tmull@heartland.org) is a research fellow in education policy at The Heartland Institute.

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