At Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday, the CSUF College Republicans staged Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, complete with cops, cop cars, supporters, supportive ribbons and–this being a university campus–demonstrators.
The inclusion of the latter prompted CSUF College Republicans to issue a press release regarding “a protest by Students for Quality Education (SQE) orchestrated in response. SQE is a socialist club funded by the California Faculty Association.”
“Although we recognize the right to peacefully protest, we are disappointed that a memorial to honor fallen officers was met with such animosity. However, the event was a huge success and we appreciate everyone who came out to thank our campus police, as well as commemorate the sacrifices made by our country’s fallen heroes.”
See what they did there? Counter-demonstrators had not come out for what had been previously billed as Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, CSUF College Republicans would have you believe, they came out to shit on the symbolic graves of slain cops.
Attached to the event afterglow press release was a copy of a pamphlet that was reportedly passed out by SQE members. It soberly gave a rational argument as to why a “Blue Lives Matter” rally can be perceived as a divisive response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
None of this is surprising. Comedians, politicians, faculty members, invited speakers and agitators who purposely stage events to stir up shit have all talked about the death of free speech on today’s college campuses. Admittedly, they generally criticize political correctness run amok more than agitation aimed at producing political correctness run amok for mocking purposes.
I remember an astronaut speaking on my college campus 30-plus years ago. A student who I did not know–but later became a lifelong friend–rose to ask how the invitee could justify the NASA budget when children were starving in this country.
This is what is supposed to happen on college campuses. Speak, debate, let what was said sink in, debate some more and form an educated opinion. The difference now is before that can happen, someone captures video of the rough-and-tumble on a cell phone, edits it just tight enough to conform to the shooter’s world view and promptly posts it on social media for all to see.
Or, they issue a press release, which reminds me: My pal who shit on the grave of a living astronaut is now a staunch Republican. Go figure.
How we have arrived at where we have arrived at, and what to do about it, is the point of the University of California’s National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement, which on Thursday announced its inaugural class of 10 fellows.
The fellows will spend a year researching timely, vital First Amendment issues, with a goal of developing tools, analyzing data and presenting lessons from history to be highlighted at a national conference later this year. Each will reside for a week at one of the 10 UC campuses to engage with students, faculty, administrators and community members.
The California legislature last summer passed Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 21, which urges state colleges and universities to adopt free speech statements consistent with the principles UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman articulated in a 2016 campus policy statement.
When UC President Janet Napolitano launched the free speech center last October, she appointed as its advisory board co-chairmen Gillman, a leading constitutional scholar, and Erwin Chemerinsky, the founding dean of the UCI School of Law, the current dean of UC Berkeley’s law school and a respected constitutional law scholar himself. Gillman and Chemerinsky co-authored Free Speech on Campus, hailed as a primer on the complex subject.
“Freedom of expression is the indispensable element in all our other rights in this country,” says Chemerinsky in a UCI press release. “Today’s students are rightly concerned about hate speech, bullying and polarization. We can and must educate them and ourselves about free speech and civil discourse. It is essential to democratic government and our future.
“I look forward to working with Howard in creating a terrific center on free speech and civic engagement.”
Their board members include: former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California), former U.S. Secretary of Education and CEO of The Education Trust John King, Facebook strategic communications director Anne Kornblut, UCLA law student Avi Oved, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, University of Chicago Law School professor Geoffrey R. Stone, Washington Post columnist George Will, National Public Radio White House correspondent Tamara Keith, Twitter general counsel Vijaya Gadde and UC Regent Emeritus Harvey Brody.
With Gillman charged with overseeing administration of the center, “UCI becomes a command post for the study of free speech,” boasts the university release. But among Gillman’s first duties is searching for an executive director to manage operations and programming.
The first fellows, who were selected by the advisory board from 75 applicants nationwide, and their projects, are:
Robert Cohen, professor of history and social studies at New York University, who will compare free speech crises at UC Berkeley in 2017 and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1967, then develop related curriculum materials for middle and high school teachers and incoming college students.
Carlos Cortes, professor emeritus of history at UC Riverside, who will explore the history of diversity initiatives on college campuses and how those initiatives have affected students’ and administrators’ evolving views on free speech issues.
Ellis Cose, best-selling author and speaker, who will perform a deep analysis of the challenges of protecting free expression in the context of polarized politics, accusations of fake news and a rise in white nationalism, supplementing his book project on the history of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Justin McClinton, Ph.D. candidate in education policy and leadership studies at UC Santa Barbara, who will develop a toolkit that helps university administrators prepare incoming students for challenging ideas and civil engagement.
Candace McCoy, director of policy analysis in the Office of the Inspector General for the New York Police Department and professor at the City University of New York, who will study recent protests and changing police practices when groups decide that rioting or threats of violence are necessary to bring attention to their issues.
Elizabeth Meyer, associate professor of educational foundations, policy & practice at the University of Colorado Boulder, who will aim to demystify First Amendment topics such as free speech, harassment and nondiscrimination in K-12 and university settings, including surveying educators on challenging acts of expression in their classrooms.
Gamelyn Oduardo-Sierra, legal counsel to the chancellor at the University of Puerto Rico, who will focus on developing online resources, podcasts and educational guides about the rights of assembly, public forums and civic participation as avenues of social conciliation.
Carlin Romano, professor of philosophy and humanities at Ursinus College and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as critic at large for The Chronicle of Higher Education, who will work with the country’s top intellectuals and writers to set up debates on controversial topics at up to eight college campuses. He will write a series of articles connected to these debates, examining when and why conventional viewpoints tip into being unacceptable.
Keith Whittington, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics at Princeton University, who will develop model guidelines for campus free speech, moving from the defense of principles to concrete statements and regulations that can be adapted and used by college administrators.
The work of the final fellow may be of interest to members of SQE, CSUF College Republicans or any other students who enjoy engaging in the ol’ rough-and-tumble. William Morrow, former UC Berkeley student body president, will create a playbook for student leaders on how to handle the unique politics, legal restrictions, community relations and complex media communications involved with expressing opposition to controversial speakers.
“The first class of fellows exemplifies our goal of bringing together the country’s great minds to study the complicated issues of free speech, activism and civic engagement,” says Gillman in the UCI release. “They are a diverse group of experts representing multiple perspectives. We’re proud to welcome them to the center and to support their work.”
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.