Until just recently, the only people to cover the free speech controversy at UMass has been myself and the trusty UMass Collegian. Happily, the Valley Advocate jumped into the fray recently by printing a commentary by Reason Magazine editor Cathy Young on last semester's "Feder Fiasco" in which former Boston Herald columnist Don Feder was heckled off the stage. Young gave this devasatingly concise summary of the incident:
A group of left-wing students announced their intent to protest Feder's appearance. The campus police then demanded the organizers pay an added $444 for security, nearly tripling the costs to the club.
It's bad enough to place a burden on unpopular views by requiring student organizations to shoulder extra costs for hosting controversial speakers. It's doubly outrageous when, even with the extra costs, the controversial speech is still silenced.
While Feder was not shouted down or physically threatened as some other speakers have been, the protesters were blatantly disruptive from the start. They laughed raucously when Feder was introduced as an "author and intellectual." The announcement that no protests or disruptions would be tolerated during the speech was greeted with open jeers.
As Feder began to speak, the protesters hissed and hooted. At one point, a group of them noisily turned around their chairs to face away from the podium. Finally, a woman in the audience interrupted Feder, rising to shout out a statement about the murder of a transgendered African-American woman. Feder asked the police to escort her out; she walked out on her own, to the cheers of her fellow protesters, and even paused to wave to her friends and yell a derogatory comment to Feder. As the disruptions continued, Feder cut his speech short and left the podium.
To read the entire essay click here. What I personally find disturbing about these incidents is that the people involved are the college educated people who will help determine the degree of free speech we have in the future. If they learn on campus that shouting down people you disagree with is not just permissable, but even admirable, what degree of freedom of expression can we expect to have in the future?
This week someone named Marlena Fontes wrote a letter to the Advocate that is probably as good an argument as can be made for the pro-disruption side:
Cathy Young's article "Intolerant of Dissent" [May 21, 2009; on the appearance of conservative columnist Don Feder at UMass] rests on the idea that all free speech should be protected and listened to politely. It seems she misunderstands the meaning of free speech, which is a protection from government intervention into that right rather than insulation from outspoken community dissent. Or rather she seems to understand that freedom of speech should be part of a large agreement, which is only kept by naive liberals, to listen politely and nicely to all people even if their speech is violence-inciting, hateful and racist. This is not say that Feder should not have been allowed to speak, but a community has the right to respond.
You can read the whole letter by clicking here. What Fontes fails to tell us is who are these wise people who can determine in advance for us whose speech is intolerable because it is "violence-inciting, hateful and racist" and therefore not protected? It is one thing to "respond" it is another to do so in such a way that your opponent is unable to speak at all. We should JUST LET EVERYONE SPEAK and let every listener judge the value of what they hear according to their own judgement. That is the only fair system.
I never noticed before that the fountain in downtown Northampton's Coolidge Park is made of stones from each of the Pioneer Valley towns.
Dig this exotic plant in the window of Noodles.