Students at Bucknell University are claiming victim status after violating school chalking guidelines, which requires students to obtain permission before taking chalk to campus pavement.
The students, who have engaged in a war with administrators over their right to “free expression,” had chalk messages erased earlier this week after failing to obtain permission from Bucknell’s Events Management office, a policy which all students, regardless of political persuasion, are expected to follow.
A petition drafted by several student activists argued that the process of obtaining permission before writing chalk messages is an “unwarranted regulation” on free speech.
This act speaks to the broader power-washing — literal and figurative — of critical expression on Bucknell’s campus. It speaks to an overreach of administrative control bleeding over into the daily lives and activities of students. At present, chalking requires approval by Events Management; an unwarranted regulation and monitoring of free speech at our University.
But are these student activists truly interested in freedom of expression? Despite their stated intentions, the student activists behind the petition claim that the administration has the right to consider “expressions of hate” unacceptable.
Expressions of hate aside, we the undersigned believe that the administration does not have the right to determine what is and is not acceptable speech on our campus. We believe this to be counter to Bucknell’s mission statement which encourages “critical thinking…characterized by continued intellectual exploration, creativity, and imagination.” Whether conservative or liberal, we all agree on the common imperative to speak our minds.
It’s blatantly clear that these students aren’t fighting for freedom of expression, but rather repressive tolerance, a doctrine developed by New Left scholar Herbert Marcuse who argued that tolerance in a civil society cannot be extended to those that are intolerant. Obviously, this leads to the tyranny of the anointed — the concept that there exist individuals wise enough to appoint themselves the arbiters of tolerant and intolerant speech.
And this concept has already played out at Bucknell. Many who protested and signed petitions against Yiannopouolos’ visit supported this week’s “free expression” efforts. In a January column that defended a faculty member’s email that called for retribution against “racist and fascist” conservative students, one of the student organizers of this week’s protest for “free expression” at Bucknell claimed that her conservative peers’ decision to invite Milo Yiannopoulos to campus was an act of “verbal violence” against minorities on campus.
Although he criticized President Obama and the Black Lives Matter movement, Yiannopoulos argued, in his lecture at Bucknell, that “there is stuff left to do on race in America…(African-Americans) are still owed something.” Then, speaking much like an intersectional feminist, Yiannopoulos addressed the struggles faced particularly by African-American females, who he suggested are on the receiving end of cross-sectional systematic discrimination.
There is a certain level of cognitive dissonance required to be able to defend both the rights of students to express themselves and retribution against students for holding a non-mandatory speaking event featuring a provocative conservative.
Despite the false accusation of violence, Bucknell leftists regularly promote actual violence as means to achieve their political ends. Texts that normalize violence like George Sorel’s Reflections on Violence are frequently assigned to students. One of the original chalking messages that appeared on campus this week claimed that the “oppressed” will be violent until they are truly “free.”
This radicalism is certainly relevant. On what grounds do these students and faculty have to find objectionable the speech of others?
It’s disingenuous at best for these students to claim that they are champions of “free expression.” Rather, they are advocates of Marcuse’s brand of repressive tolerance, a concept that is worth consideration but is largely incompatible with the intended aims of American higher education.
The reason is simple: where do we find the angels with the wisdom to be the gatekeepers of acceptable and unacceptable speech?
Tom Ciccotta is a libertarian who writes about economics and higher education for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @tciccotta or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org