University of Chicago Police remove pro-Palestinian protestors from talk that they disrupted

This is the way a pro-free-speech University should deal with people who try to disrupt or shut down a talk on campus. A lot of schools would have simply let disruptive protestors continue their disruption and eventually stop the talk, but, in accordance with the University of Chicago’s policy on free expression and the specified disciplinary provisions, they were removed from the venue.

This took place yesterday when visiting professor Eugene Kontorovich, a professor of law at George Mason University, a staunch opponent of boycotts of Israel, and a defender of the legality of Israel’s West Bank Settlements, came to our Law School to talk about—and oppose—the BDS movement. Kontorovich’s views would naturally rile up many on the anti-Israel Left, and so some protestors (apparently not students) disrupted his talk.

You can read the story in the student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon (click on the screenshot below):

Here’s how the University handled the situation (“Todd” is Charles Todd, the Dean of Students at the Law School) :

 The protesters—who identified themselves as part of Jewish Voice for Peace—entered the public event and sat in the back of the room, according to law students attending the talk.

The protesters handed out pro–BDS literature calling for political action in response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Minutes later, several more protesters entered with a Palestinian flag and and a sign that read “No occupation, end apartheid, right of return.” They began chanting, “Free, free Palestine, protesting is not a crime.”

Todd then arrived and repeatedly asked the protesters to stop chanting or to leave the room, he said in his e-mail.

The UCPD then arrived on the scene to remove the protesters from the event. Three of the protesters were escorted from the room by UCPD officers and were held outside the doors of the event while their license information was recorded. During this time, protesters displayed [sic] continued to hold the Palestinian flag and the sign.

The protesters were then issued trespass warnings, according to Todd’s email, and asked to leave the Law School.

This is completely in accord with the University’s policy on disruptive conduct, which spells out in great detail how the school deals with disruptive conduct by both students and non-students. Student disruption can be punished by a variety of sanctions up to expulsion, something the students in general don’t like. Many have opposed any punishment for disrupting talks, something that of course would lead to chaos and the end of free speech at this university.

In fact, some students present at this event apparently wanted the disruption to proceed, and argued that removing protestors is itself a violation of free speech. This view is ridiculous, and again shows that many students have no idea what “free speech” really is:

Several students who witnessed the incident expressed frustration with the presence of police officers in the Law School and questioned the University’s application of its free speech policy by allowing the protesters to be removed.

. . . A first-year law student who spoke with Todd following the protest expressed his frustration with the UCPD presence in the Law School. He said that after talks in which administrators promised to reform their protocol, reforms were either not put in place or not carried out.

“Our takeaway was that [Todd] endorsed what happened,” the student said.

The student went on to say that given the nature of Kontorovich’s talk on the First Amendment, he felt as though, “This runs counter to the fact that all these lunch talks are open to the public, and that we are reportedly told that we should fight bad speech with good speech.”

Todd, while he didn’t call the police, did in fact endorse what happened, as he should have. In an email to law students, he said this (among other things):

“This chanting did violate the University’s policies. It is the right of any speaker invited to our campus to be heard and for all who choose to be present to hear the speaker. Moreover, it is the right of members of the audience to ask tough questions of those speakers. The heckler’s veto is contrary to our principles. Protests that prevent a speaker from being heard limit the freedoms of other students to listen, engage, and learn.”

Good for Todd!

As for “fighting bad speech with good speech” as a rationale for disruption, that’s just bogus. You give your “good speech” in another place, or outside the venue. Otherwise, the “bad speech” doesn’t even get heard. Can’t a first-year law student understand that? Or was that student disingenuous enough to try to turn the University’s policy back on itself in this tortuous way?

At any rate, it would be salutary for all universities to adopt this policy. Ask disrupting students or non-students to desist, and, if they don’t and persist in their disruption, bring in the University police and toss their sorry tuchases out. If they’re students, take names and punish them if they do it more than once. This is the only way to ensure that freedom of expression is protected on campus.

I note again, as I have several times before, that the Chicago Maroon has never taken a stand on free speech at my school; and they are a newspaper! I suspect that many of the editors are invertebrates. They should be writing editorials explaining free speech and how to engage in non-disruptive protest, but they say nothing. They should be ashamed of themselves.

28 Comments

  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted April 10, 2019 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting. Have the guts and policy to allow free speech if you believe in it. Good action by one school at least.

    Apparently the Maroon is a newspaper with journalists?

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted April 10, 2019 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting. Have the guts and policy to allow free speech if you believe in it. Good action by one school at least.

    Apparently the Maroon is a newspaper with journalists?

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted April 10, 2019 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      It was better the first time. Do not know what caused that.

  3. dabertini
    Posted April 10, 2019 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Finally sanity prevails.

  4. JezGrove
    Posted April 10, 2019 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    A good outcome. Maybe next time they will avail themselves of the opportunity to “ask tough questions of [the] speaker” instead.

    • darrelle
      Posted April 10, 2019 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      Unlikely as there would be a greater risk to them of being exposed as either ignorant or as antisemitic.

  5. Posted April 10, 2019 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Gosh, I wish more universities adopted this type of policy. Specifically mine, Edinburgh, could do with a stringent policy defending free expression. Unfortunately I doubt institutions already infected with poisonous hatred of dissent would be able to enact such a policy- there would be protests, of course, and the universities would probably back down. And if it was to be voted on by the student body and faculty, well, it wouldn’t stand a chance. I envy Chicago!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 10, 2019 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Let’s hope that the schools that model what true free speech is cause other schools to behave in similar manners. When I was in school decades ago, disruption like this would have been similarly handled. It’s only recently that we have slid backward so it’s time to right that shift.

  6. Posted April 10, 2019 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Yay University of Chicago.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted April 10, 2019 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

      +1!

  7. Davide Spinello
    Posted April 10, 2019 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    This is how every institution run by adults should act. Unfortunately we don’t see this often, and I start thinking that Heather Mac Donald (full disclosure: notorious nazi, or may be not) is right in her analysis, according to which the free speech problem in universities is just an epiphenomenon of the victimhood culture based on bigoted and racist identitarianism, sanitized under the umbrella of social justice.

    In other words, free speech is just a surpassed colonial tool to silence oppressed minorities, and therefore we are justified in ignoring its core principles, or worse in actively trying to dismantle it.

  8. Posted April 10, 2019 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    I would wager that if the entire situation was reversed and a pro-Palestinian speaker was being shouted down, this crowd would be calling for the ouster of such “protesters.”

    • Deodand
      Posted April 10, 2019 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

      It’s an easy bet to make, the mantra of the SJW on free speech is: “The purpose of free speech is to promote equality. Speech that does not promote equality should not be free and those who utter it should loose all their rights.”

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 10, 2019 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    I think the protestors were acting within their own First Amendment rights right up until the moment they refused to stop chanting to allow the speaker to be heard. As I think I’m on record as saying time or two on this site, I think the First Amendment gives the “con” side at a public speech rights identical to those given the “pro” side — a right to boo and jeer coequal to the other side’s right to cheer and applaud. One side can’t be forced to sit on its hand, while the other is free to clap to its heart’s content.

    As I read the Maroon piece, the protestors here exceeded that right when they prevented Kontorovich from being heard, so the UC flatfoots were justified in removing them. But let’s not lose sight that free speech Americana-style ain’t tea with the Queen, and needn’t be conducted according to the politesse of Emily Post. Especially as to controversial issues, it’s a rough-and-ready affair, like our nation itself.

    • JezGrove
      Posted April 10, 2019 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      I agree absolutely.

    • Historian
      Posted April 10, 2019 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      Ken, I think your argument needs some clarification, particularly your reference to a “public speech.” How do you define this? Does it mean a speech given at a governmental site? Suppose a person rents a room at a non-government venue to give a speech and the public is invited. Some people in the audience start booing, but do not interrupt the speech. Does the speaker have the right to direct security to remove these protestors? I do not endorse this tactic, but I can’t see how the first amendment would prevent the speaker from doing so. Perhaps, I do not grasp the full scope of the first amendment.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted April 10, 2019 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

        Like the others enshrined in our Bill of Rights, the First Amendment’s right to free speech provides a constraint only on governmental action. But since the UC speech code adopts a First Amendment standard — and since, according to the linked Maroon article, the speech given by Kontorovich was billed as a “public event” — I applied a First Amendment “public forum” analysis in my comment.

        In general, a private venue isn’t transmogrified into a First Amendment “public forum” by dint of opening its doors to the public alone, and such private venues may remove anyone who violates the venue’s rules (which are often stamped as “terms of use” on the back of a ticket to an event — as at a theater or arena — thereby forming an enforceable contract between venue and patron regarding the patron’s conduct).

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted April 10, 2019 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

          My guess is the school is not removing the crowd of noise just in the interest of the first amendment. They are doing so because it is their policy to do so on their property. If someone is there to speak the only way they can do so is to remove the interruption. That is a benefit to all and also a right of ownership.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted April 11, 2019 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      There is time and a place for clapping.

      Boos and hisses may have a place, as long as it is in place and not used as disruption.

  10. JezGrove
    Posted April 10, 2019 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Her thoughts on racial profiling don’t seem to encourage free expression and/or diversity of opinions/beliefs though. Regarding all Catholics as possible terrorists didn’t work out too well here in the UK.

    • JezGrove
      Posted April 10, 2019 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      Oops, not sure what happened there – my comment above was in reply to Davide Spinello at #7.

    • Posted April 10, 2019 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

      Heather Mac Donald argues that what is commonly labeled ‘racial profiling’ is nothing of the sort.

      I don’t follow how that assertion discourages free speech.

  11. CAS
    Posted April 10, 2019 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Good work Todd and UCPD enforcing free speech rights!

  12. Mark Cagnett
    Posted April 10, 2019 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    George Mason University , at the time “Dark Money” was published had accepted over $28 million from the Koch brothers, who basically now own the university, or at least their ideology. Brett Kavanaugh is also getting an appointment at their law school. The Koch’s also have undue influence over The Federalist Society (can you say “white supremacy?” Their policies and legal views are Donald Trump’s legal views. I therefore believe a protest is warranted. Maybe not a disruption, but absolutely a protest.

    • Posted April 11, 2019 at 4:36 am | Permalink

      You’re saying that if a speaker comes from this University, no matter what he says, a protest is warranted. Sorry, but that’s ridiculous. You protest people’s message, not their university.

  13. Jon Gallant
    Posted April 10, 2019 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    It is, of course, a shock to see pro-Israel speakers granted the right to be heard. We can look forward to a student group demanding that Professor Charles Todd be boycotted, divested, sanctioned, and fired, along with a long list of other demands.

    Or maybe not. About a year ago, Jon Haidt asserted that he sensed a change in the weather coming on—starting with signs of vertebrate behavior by some administrations. Maybe the Univ. of Chicago Law School event is a sign that he was right. Let’s hope the UC is not an outlier.

    • rickflick
      Posted April 10, 2019 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

      I quite sure administrators across the country are watching these events. Let’s hope they take the hint.

  14. Posted April 11, 2019 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Given that the speaker is in the minority (as it happens) with his legal opinion on the WB, it would have been nice to have the protestors arrange for a counterpresentation. Oh well.


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