When I read this op-ed in the Maroon, the University of Chicago student newspaper, I thought it was by a current student of the snowflake variety, but it turned out that the author of “No debate without defiance” was one Matthew Andersson, who got his masters of business administration from our school in 1996.
From this you learn two things: first, that an MBA from Chicago doesn’t guarantee that you can write. More important, you learn that even a student from of our notoriously conservative business school can be an Illiberal Leftist. For Andersson’s piece is a long-winded excuse for the value of students disrupting talks they don’t like. I haven’t seen such a justification before—at least not as explicitly as here.
Andersson’s point is that for several reasons students or protestors have a right to disrupt public lectures in universities. First, universities supposedly have mechanisms to prevent challenging “establishment representatives”, and in fact an invitation to speak constitutes a tacit university endorsement of the speaker’s views:
A university is a highly organized corporate institution that sustains numerous formal barriers to meaningfully challenge establishment representatives, let alone allow students to gain any kind of equal footing in a university-sponsored speaker venue. Universities do indeed, as Bittle said, “sanitize” debate; and perhaps somewhat ironically, tacitly validate and shield visiting speakers.
That of course is bogus; many speakers are invited not by the University itself but by student organizations, and universities have in fact expressed distaste for student invitations of speakers like Milo Yiannopoulos. Colleges, of course, have Republican organizations, libertarian organizations, men’s rights organization, and so on. They can all invite speakers.
The author gives more reasons:
It may seem surprising that students, whether in the college or the professional schools, can be well-informed and more emotionally poised to express their intuitive, instinctive reactions to what are often highly corrupted or compromised guests. There is much wisdom in students that can be thoughtlessly dismissed in university or corporate hierarchies where titles, and perhaps political power, are so faithfully coveted and protected.
What Andersson is talking about here, of course, is the right to disrupt speech of which he doesn’t approve: speech by those who are “highly corrupted or compromised.” I doubt that he’d be writing the same thing if the speaker was talking about the value of affirmative action or relaxed immigration, or about abortion rights. Would he be writing in support of right-wing students to disrupt talks by these people or to shout the speaker down?
Well, can’t students have their own counter-speeches, have a debate, or demonstrate outside the venue? No, because colleges are, says Andersson, set up to prevent such challenges:
Tucker Carlson suggested that a more civilized, formal debating approach would yield better results. But he knows as well as anyone that the preponderance of institutional college decorum does not allow students to meaningfully challenge speakers, outside of a limited and quickly forgotten comment. In matters of such emotional and ideological weight as national politics, often a disruptive, insistent, and memorable challenge not only vividly communicates an opposing viewpoint, but also galvanizes an audience into more critical thinking and a less guarded response. In these cases, real learning can take place as emotional content is introduced or heightened, and with it, deeper convictions.
Andersson is completely oblivious to reality, or else hasn’t seen these disruptions. There is no promotion of critical thinking, there is no stimulation of the audience’s cogitation, there is no learning. What happens is that students already convinced that they’re right try to prevent speakers from giving their views. There is no chance that the disrupting students will change their mind: they are there not to promote learning, but to prevent the speaker from speaking. And really, does the introduction or heightening of “emotional content” really promote critical thinking? What world is this man living in? In the end, he uses doublespeak to equate disruption of speech with freedom of speech:
[Jack] Chatfield was famous for nearly inciting a riot at speaker events and seminars, while also marshaling his facts in an organized manner. Speakers (or more cautious students or administrators) rarely left an event without memorable inspiration, and more often, with decisive reconsideration of their assumptions.
Sadly, on many college campuses across the country, such methods and freedoms are under constant assault or institutional dampening. With so many behavioral reinforcement factors—grades, degrees, careers, and recommendations—hanging over the heads of students, some healthy defiance is surely one of the most liberating skills any student can learn (and one indicative of leadership). As Frederick Douglass said, “power concedes nothing without a demand.”
Defiance is one thing; disruption another. And here we see disruption characterized as a “freedom”. Institutions like mine, which explicitly bans such disruptions, are said to be dampening this freedom.
Andersson, of course, has it exactly backwards. There is no freedom of speech if a speaker isn’t allowed to speak, or is constantly interrupted. And I deeply suspect that Andersson only approves of the interruption of certain speech, that which, he thinks, fosters “establishment values.”