by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor | John Locke Foundation
Q. When do media and leftist professors worry about free speech on campus?
A. When speech they agree with is threatened.
Compare, for example, their differing approaches to two UNC system professors, Gene Nichol and Mike Adams. The former added a disclaimer to his published columns (a “chilling development,” as The News & Observer said*). The latter had tenure withheld and professional advancement blocked over his published columns and recently won one of the most significant court decisions in favor of academic freedom and free speech — future professors and academics will all benefit from this ruling (” ,” the N&O said).
A tale of two windows
Today’s N&O proclaims “Signs at UNC-CH building prompt free-speech debate.” In a nutshell:
UNC professor of Geography Altha Cravey’s office window displays a sign reading “Hurston” in the recently renamed Carolina Hall. … On Friday, August 7, 2015, Cravey was asked by campus police to remove the sign from her window. Cravey refused to remove the sign representing what she believes would have been an appropriate name for the building [to honor Zora Neale Hurston, the black writer who had once unofficially studied drama at UNC].
Cravey is correct that her window sign should remain and that it is an issue of free speech. It could spark debate and discussion, which cannot be a bad thing on a university campus.
Oh, here, let’s quote this for irony’s sake:
Cravey said the encounter with police was disturbing and antithetical to academic freedom. Classrooms should be open to any and all ideas, she said.
Classrooms should be open to any and all ideas — does Cravey now believe that? Let us hope this is evidence of a late, long-overdue conversion to academic freedom and free speech.
Cravey was, after all, one of the vocal opponents of a new curriculum in Western Civilization to be offered at UNC-Chapel Hill. Are some ideas more equal than others?
Cravey also participated in a truly disgusting display against an invited campus speaker — this on a campus that so prides itself on beating back the Speaker Ban Law that it erected a monument to the victory.
The N&O recounts the incident, wherein a former U.S. congressman was cursed, heckled, shouted down, and finally shut down completely when activists started breaking windows:
UNC-CH police released pepper spray and threatened to use a Taser on student protesters Tuesday evening when a crowd disrupted a speech by former Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo opposing in-state tuition benefits to unauthorized immigrants.
Hundreds of protesters converged on Bingham Hall, shouting profanities and accusations of racism while Tancredo and the student who introduced him tried to speak. Minutes into the speech, a protester pounded a window of the classroom until the glass shattered, prompting Tancredo to flee and campus police to shut down the event. …
“This is the free speech crowd, right?” Tancredo joked.
UNC-CH geography professor Altha Cravey joined protesters in chanting the names of Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus.
Carolina Review Daily published a first-hand account of Cravey’s actions that night:
I was sitting next to the woman who I have since learned to be Professor Cravey at the event, and I was apalled by her immaturity and lack of sophistication in handling herself as an adult. Contrary to the implication of the letter sent to the Chancellor and printed in the DTH, Professor Cravey was a primary participant in the obnoxious inhibition of speech that took place. She joined in the yelling and chanting of accusations that prevented Mr. Tancredo from speaking, and she drew attention to herself as a loud and noticable force in the protest. She encouraged the students who began many of the chants. Her pretense that she did not agree with the petition to silence Tancredo is therefore transparent; Cravey wished as much as the other students to block Tancredo’s speech, and she helped to accomplish this goal with the same methods the campus has decried over the past week. After the speech I was asked by an adult if the woman who had carried herself so childishly was a professor at UNC; at the time I did not know, but responded that she seemed more like a radical citizen than a university professor. Unfortunately I was wrong.
I agree with the Cravey who supports free and open exchange of ideas in society and the classroom. I think the Cravey who encourages a hecklers’ veto of ideas she hates and openly seeks to prevent ideas from reaching the classroom is on the wrong side of freedom, history, and scholarship.
* By the way, in today’s N&O, Mark Steckbeck, an assistant professor of economics at Campbell University, wrote a column the N&O didn’t agree with that included the Nichol disclaimer (“He doesn’t speak for Campbell”). No reports of a chilling effect have yet developed.