October 27, 2006

Spot the free speech issue.

Kevin Barrett, the UW's part-time lecturer who thinks the U.S. government perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, spoke at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh yesterday (at the invitation of the College Greens):
Members of the UWO branch of College Republicans picketed outside the union, and several made their way to the lecture as well. Shortly after Barrett took the podium, UWO Police were forced to take action when dissenting students stood up and turned their backs to Barrett mid-lecture. The officers received applause as they escorted students out of the room.

One of the student demonstrators outside was UWO fifth-year senior Erin Kisley, who said that while she believes in academic freedom, Barrett is stepping over a thin red line.

“I don’t want my student activity fees to be funding him to come here,” Kisley said. “I think his teaching is wrong. I believe in freedom of speech, but as an education major, I also believe that you should be teaching facts instead of your own opinions.”

Andrew Sabais, Chair of College Greens and UWO senior said many people view Barrett’s presence at the university as an “embarrassment,” but disagrees with Kisley.

“Tonight there is a big embarrassment for this university, and that is the College Republicans demonstrating outside against free speech,” Sabais said.
Hmmm... Were they demonstrating against free speech or exercising free speech? The opinion that Barrett doesn't deserve to be a featured speaker at UWO is a perfectly good one. The only serious free speech question here is whether the students who stood up and turned their backs on the speaker should have been thrown out!

The student journalist who wrote the linked article says "UWO Police were forced to take action when dissenting students stood up and turned their backs to Barrett mid-lecture." What "forced" the police to "take action" against the students, who had chosen a peaceful, quiet form of protest?

ADDED: If Barrett had been a little sharper, he would have called on the police to leave the students alone. After all, he presents himself as very skeptical of government authority and concerned about free speech.

35 comments:

AllenS said...

Andrew Sabais: Free speech for me, but not for you.

knoxgirl said...

...especially on the heels of the Minutemen thing at Columbia where the students shouted them down and stormed the stage. Standing up and turning your back is routine stuff--and a fairly respectful way to protest, in comparison. Hardly an offense that merits them being hauled out.

Jeff said...

Because they were Republicans.

Gerry said...

"Were they demonstrating against free speech or exercising free speech?"

It wasn't speech! They didn't say anything!

I kid because I love.

humblelawstudent said...

Students stand up and turn their backs to speakers all the time.

Georgetown allowed it a few months ago when Yoo came to speak, and there have been plenty of other examples.

But, I guess the University can set the boundary.

Simon said...

Knoxgirl hits the nail precisely on the head. One has only to compare this kind of protest - turning of backs - with the sort of heckling and stage storming that one sees when Ann Coulter speaks at a college, or, of course, the minutemen farrago at columbia.

David said...

I guess journalism students dont have to read Orwell

MadisonMan said...

Maybe the people behind couldn't see? Regardless, it does seem like a stupid decision on the part of the UW-Zero police.

I think the speaker enjoyed it and the publicity it has caused.

NSC said...

It's just the difference between conservatives and liberals.

Derve said...

I see your point, but...

Protestors of all stripes:
No matter how much the words hurt, sit down and don't disrupt, even quietly. You had your chance outside the venue. You can hold signs there. Distribute literature. Chant.

But once inside and seated, don't disrupt the speaker... even a little. Oh, you can moan and boo. Briefly. But an indoor speech is not a shout out on Library Mall. It's not a place to block the view of the speaker with sheets, signs or bodies. It's not your time to personally shout out and debate.

A little of this might add: a particularly incisive question during open mike time, with follow up. Otherwise, no matter what the viewpoint or who the speaker, you are not really countering free speech with more free speech, as the hostess here seems wont to noble-ize such actions.

You're really not letting the first speaker get his message out, in a pre-planned forum which he respectfully played for the rules in establishing. Hear him out. LET ME hear him out, and make my own analysis and valuation of the message. I can do it myself.

If you've done your job with the educating me about the earlier methods of protest, rest assured I'll have your considerations in the back of my mind while watching and listening to the speech. If what he's saying is so obviously evil or offensive, I'll probably catch it too, no need for you to call to out to all of us.

Ever watch Judge Judy?
She makes one side shut up when the other is presenting their case. Even if it's outrageous lies -- wait, you'll get your turn. With speeches like this, there are ways to let the speaker be seen and heard, and you present your opinions elsewhere. If it's the "student fees paying for this" issue, the speech is not the place to object.

I don't care if it's guised under Free Speech or counterprotests, or done by the Republicans or Dems. I don't care what the East Coast schools do.

We don't like overdone spectacle here. You don't jump on the stage during a speech, stand up and block the speaker view, or hold up big banners or small ones for more than a few seconds in the audience. It takes away from the speaker. We get your point. Think of others there to listen too; it ain't always about you.


In the long run,
encouraging actions like this does nothing to encourage the atmosphere of civilized discourse.

Truly said...

A fifth-year senior? Is that a polite term for "I can't decide what I want to do with my life"?

Fenrisulven said...

Yet another example that The Left doesn't really believe in the things they lecture us about

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing that Derve, I wish more people at my school would understand that. Especially the Republicans, cause I have to work with them afterwards, and it's already hard enough to get people at my school to take us seriously.

And to truly: Lots (or at least more students than used to) of students are taking a fifth year because they're double majoring or dealing with tons of distribution requirements. I can't see how it's a bad thing, getting more education, as long as they understand the money side of it. I'm currently (probably) technically a fourth-year junior, because i took a gap-year between graduating high school and begining college. I would never give up my experiences from that year, they directly influence my ability to suceed in my chosen career path, and I went on the program I went on because it would help me learn more about the things I wanted to do with my life. I think probably lots of people on the five-year plan (at least if those that I have met are representative) have more direction in their academic life than those who graduate aimlessly in four years. At least the five-years had to make a decision to go for a fifth year...

Balfegor said...

"UWO Police were forced to take action when dissenting students stood up and turned their backs to Barrett mid-lecture."

Haha. Really need the police out for that one.

We don't like overdone spectacle here.

It's hard to construe turning your backs on the speaker as "overdone spectacle." It's roughly on par with getting up and leaving when a speaker get's up to speak (and in fact, is almost precisely parallel). It's a calculated snub.

MadisonMan said...

A fifth-year senior? Is that a polite term for "I can't decide what I want to do with my life"?

That's a possibility. It's also possible that they decided to change focus. Or they couldn't get some of the required classes they needed.

I'd much prefer my kids take 5 years in college if it means getting into a career they find enjoyable and challenging vs. 4 years and something they started off thinking they wanted to do and finished just to get done in 4 years.

Talk to me again, however, when my kids are in the 4th year of college (grin)

Henry said...

If Barrett had been a little sharper, he would have called on the police to leave the students alone.

Exactly. He could have been as sharp as Ted Nugent.

Derve said...

It's hard to construe turning your backs on the speaker as "overdone spectacle." It's roughly on par with getting up and leaving when a speaker get's up to speak.

So get up at the end and leave. Or don't come. Don't just stand there, block the view, and throw the speaker off. I want to hear him say what he prepared.

We don't need to import these protest techniques to Oshkosh. It's not as "value added" as you like to pretend. Politer smarter ways of getting your message across are more effective; ie/here, letting the man speak and people freely concentrate.

Balfegor said...

So get up at the end and leave. Or don't come. Don't just stand there, block the view, and throw the speaker off. I want to hear him say what he prepared.

We don't need to import these protest techniques to Oshkosh. It's not as "value added" as you like to pretend. Politer smarter ways of getting your message across are more effective; ie/here, letting the man speak and people freely concentrate.

Goodness, how prim. We really are the new Victorians. Not even allowed to cut a man socially in public nowadays. Floreat Etona and all that.

JenL said...

A fifth-year senior? Is that a polite term for "I can't decide what I want to do with my life"?
Or majoring in one of the growing numbers of majors (like pharmacy and education, in some states at least) that are 5 year programs.

Derve said...

Goodness, how prim. We really are the new Victorians. Not even allowed to cut a man socially in public nowadays.

You can. I'm arguing it's not effective in all venues. There are better ways to counter speech you don't like.

(Turn your face quietly away from the monitor and just sit there if you disagree?)
--------
*Others may encourage such protest techniques, I'm encouraging them to think about the audience and the venue and the limitations of such drama scenes. Perhaps the "audience" wasn't truly the Oshkosh group in attendance, but it was folks like "MadisonMan" on the Althouse blog that the College Republicans there wanted to reach.

F15C said...

In the end, probably the best way to deal with a talking bag of excrement like Barrett is to let them speak without distraction. Then follow up with pointed, pertinent, direct questions that nail him and his sickening delusions. The real power of free speech is not in shouting someone down, but in destroying their argument for all to see/hear/read.

MadisonMan said...

but it was folks like "MadisonMan" on the Althouse blog that the College Republicans there wanted to reach.

The problem with trying to reach "Me" is that when "I" read about just anything college students do, "I" just say "College Students" to "myself" and then add that they'll grow up someday.

That's what "I" do.

Pogo said...

"Kevin Barrett... spoke at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh yesterday..."

The UW system is really taking it on the chin for this guy. And taking it, and taking it. His class, based on bizarre and fully-reputed delusions should be an embarrassment for any serious University.

I'd be angry if i were a student, knowing that goofballs like this are in the news when I'm just trying to get hired. "Oh, you're from that school."

It's unfair how rapidly a reputation can be undone.

PatCA said...

The police confront respectful protestors like these Republicans and avoid mobs like the Columbia gang for the same reason the left attacks the US and studiously avoids criticism of Islam: one group will hurt you back, the other won't.

Derve said...

MM: What? I said "perhaps". You commented upthread about the UW cops over-reacting. They got your attention, to some effect:

"Regardless, it does seem like a stupid decision on the part of the UW-Zero police."

Elizabeth said...

I don't know enough about the institution at Oshkosh, but if it's a commuter school, with a large working student population, then it's not uncommon for students to take five or even six years to finish a degree. They're fitting in anywhere from 6 to 12 hours each semester while they work full-time jobs. I admire those people and their work ethic.

Pogo said...

er ...repudiated... or something

Sean said...

Wouldn't Prof. Althouse's questions be better directed to the University of Wisconsin administration? Of course, I'm not saying that she would be doing herself any favors by posing them.

Revenant said...

Letting the Republicans be the only ones to protest Barrett seems like a bad play on the part of the Democrats. People are used to assuming that anything the Democrats protest must be Republican and vice-versa -- by letting the Republicans be the sole voice for reason and decency the Democrats create the impression that they're on Barrett's side. Considering that Democrats generally think Barrett's an asshole, too, that isn't a smart move.

Richard Dolan said...

This kind of nonsense could only occur on a university campus. No one is coming out of the seemingly endless Barrett mess looking good, with the exception of the students who chose to turn their backs in silent protest. Having compulsory student dues used to fund a speech by this nut gave them ample reason to express their views in a way that didn't disrupt the event. Given that the UW administration has screwed up at every step along the way with Barrett, it was to be expected that they would do the same here. I see that they didn't disappoint.

The Barrett saga remains a huge, continuing and deserved embarrassment to UW. It certainly sounds like UW -- perhaps more than one campus -- would benefit from some changes in the management team. That would certainly have happened already if this kind of screw-up had occurred in the private sector. Surely there must be at least one adult in the University's administration who could bring some judgment and common sense to bear. Since it's a university, however, I'm not holding my breath.

Simon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Simon said...

You know, one of Ann's articles recounts a Rehnquist speech at UW years ago where protestors of one stripe or another gathered to make noise outside the lecture theater..."Late Night Confessions in the Hart Hotel" or something like that?

I've mentioned that you should get some of your scholarship together into a format where people without regular westlaw / lexis access can read it, right?

Ann Althouse said...

Simon: Yeah:

"Outside the theater, a group of protesters chanted and banged, trying to disrupt the speech. They happened to be pro-choice activists, but they represented all the many persons who have found themselves, over the years, aggrieved by the Court's rulings. They had no way of knowing that, inside, the Chief's speech was taking a pristinely procedural track, devoid of any substance capable of sparking protest. The speech continued calmly, the audience continued to listen, and only the noise of the protesters intruded on our privileged space."

Late Night Confessions in the Hart and Wechsler Hotel, 47 Vand. L. Rev. 993 (1994).

Fenrisulven said...

Reminds me of the last election. Some newspaper had interviewed "professional" activists at the airport. They were coming from one protest, on their way to some southern city, and were not yet aware what they were going to protest there.

Kisley36 said...

A fifth-year senior? Is that a polite term for "I can't decide what I want to do with my life"?

I am the said fifth-year senior. At Oshkosh, to get an education degree, it takes 5 years of school. This is because of two reasons. First, education majors at Oshkosh are required to take more classes than at other Wisconsin universitites because our education degrees are nationally recognized rather than only recognized by the state of Wisconsin. Second, Oshkosh education majors are required to take 9 credits of graduate courses in order to get an undergraduate degree.

Furthermore, your ad hominem attacks only show that you had nothing of importance to share with the discussion.