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Thursday, October 16, 2008


When leftist professors call for “a million Mogadishus” or defame 9/11 victims as “Little Eichmanns,” campus administrators usually cloak themselves in the iron chains of the First Amendment. “I may not agree with him,” goes the old saw, “but I would defend to the death his right to say it.” However, when campus conservatives merely wish to make their case in a one night speech, the landscape shifts dramatically.

David Horowitz spoke at Central Michigan University on Tuesday night as part of the third annual Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, organized at CMU by a student group called Campus Conservatives, the local affiliate of Young America’s Foundation. His topic was “Helping the Enemy to Win: Support for the Jihad on American Campuses,” and his speeches have been magnets for unbalanced left-wingers. A contingent of the Revolutionary Communist Party has followed him cross country, and jihadists attempt to shout him down throughout his speeches. He is regularly threatened with physical violence, and in April 2005 at Butler University, a leftist hit Horowitz in the face with a pie. Yet CMU officials dithered as to whether they would provide security for this campus event, and CMU President Michael Rao has still not decided who will foot the bill for the security.

Horowitz has made a sweep of campuses in the last two years discussing The Professors and promoting the Academic Bill of Rights.

Central Michigan has provided security for campus events in the past – including those run by Campus Conservatives. But when administrators learned the invited speaker was to be David Horowitz – who, in addition to IFAW, is known for his Academic Freedom campaign – they would not spell out the security procedures. At first, it was unclear whether any security would be provided for the incendiary speech at all. Rao consented to send two security officers to the event – but as of Monday night, 24 hours before Horowitz’s scheduled speech, he had not told IFAW organizers who would pay for the guards: CMU or Campus Conservatives. Despite this uncertainty, a subtle pressure for Campus Conservatives to cancel the speech, the students pushed forward with the speech.

CMU not only demanded the student group pay for Horowitz’s security but for the safety of the public, as well. Officials then sent the students a bill for $220.

As the drama unfolded, students turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a legal advocacy group protecting campus dissenters. FIRE informed Rao via letter that any decision not to provide security, or to charge a burdensome fee to college students, would be “unconstitutional and illegal.” A lawyer cited the 1992 Supreme Court case Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement, which forbade institutions from charging large fees for securing controversial speech events, such as Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week. The opinion holds, “speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob.”

Offending a hostile mob is something David Horowitz does best – but his call for academic freedom has also offended teachers and administrators around the nation. In the end, he gave a well-received speech to about 200 people. He urged CMU students to demand their professors present both sides of divisive issues. “I hope you stand up for your rights as an American and open up your minds. You’re too young to close them,” Horowitz said.

FIRE’s legal intervention did not have an immediate effect on the situation. “Instead of admitting a mistake, CMU is figuring out ways to bully conservative students for hosting events and creating a discussion amongst the university community,” said Campus Conservatives spokesman Dennis Lennox.

Rather than follow his own precedent, President Rao hunkered down in his office, deciding to review “past practices.” As of this writing, Rao has yet to say how much, or if, Campus Conservatives will have to pay for exercising the First Amendment on campus. According to the campus newspaper, “Director of Media Relations Steve Smith said he did not know how long it would take to determine whether Campus Conservatives will be charged.” Lennox responded, “We never authorized any invoice for security. If [the university] attempts to bill us after the event, [Campus Conservatives] will take their butts to federal court and sue them.”

This is hardly the first time CMU has suppressed the rights of students who held conservative or views or traditional values. Just after the 9/11 attacks of 2001, FIRE objected when CMU banned students from displaying the American flag. Last year, after legal intervention, officials withdrew their policy forcing ideological student groups to admit those who opposed their values: for instance, evangelical Christians would have to allow gay and lesbian students into position of leadership; Campus Conservatives would have to admit leftists.

All these policies have the effect of stifling free speech – for conservative students.

At this time, President Rao and the administration continue their “study,” with no word as to whether they will honor their commitments to secure free speech on campus, as the Supreme Court and their own precedent require. But their heavy-handed tactics are illustrative of the intimidation center-right students face from academia, even in the American heartland. Their opposition is a poetic affirmation of the need for the Academic Bill of Rights.

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