Here we go again. William Covino, president of California State University Los Angeles (CSULA), canceled an appearance by Ben Shapiro, a controversial conservative writer and commentator scheduled to give a speech at an event at Cal State Los Angeles, over students and faculty objections to his conservative views. The thorn for many advocates of academic freedom rises in the light of Covino’s requirement to allow Shapiro’s appearance at a later date, but only along with other commentators with opposing views – clearly more liberal opinions. Supporters of freedom of speech are angered by the seeming inequity and see the requirement as antithetical to those values.
Shapiro was initially scheduled to appear at the event “When Diversity Becomes a Problem,” where he was to discuss ”how trigger warnings, ‘diversity,’ microaggressions, Black Lives Matter, safe spaces and #concernedstudents 1950 pose a threat to freedom of speech on college campuses.”
When Shapiro’s planned visit was first announced many students and faculty, angered by Shapiro’s appearance and conservative views, quickly fired back on social media, in particular on the event’s Facebook page, labeling Shapiro racist and in a post by one professor, calling some Shapiro supporters “white supremacists.”
Covino soon canceled Shapiro’s visit. Explaining his decision in an email to Mark Kahanding, chairman of the campus chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), a group that works to bring more conservative speakers onto campus and the event’s organizer, Covino wrote, “After careful consideration I have decided that it will be best for our campus community if we reschedule Ben Shapiro’s appearance for a later date, so that we can arrange for him to appear as part of a group of speakers with differing viewpoints on diversity. Such an event will better represent our university’s dedication to the free exchange of ideas and the value of considering multiple viewpoints.” Covino has not commented further on this action.
The cancellation and resulting email did not go over well with the Young America’s Foundation, the parent group of the campus organization behind efforts to bring Shapiro to CSULA. The group said it was “sickened” by the decision, and in a press release said, “This is a clear violation of student rights,” adding that several liberal speakers, such as Cornel West and Angela Davis, appeared on campus recently or were scheduled to do so with no requirement that their events include opposing views. “Only conservatives are subject to liberal administrators’ obstructionist tactics to promote progressivism at the expense of any modicum of ideological diversity. This is a clear-cut case study in that disturbing pattern.”
Freedom Of Speech Issues Heat Up
Peter Bonilla, director of the Individual Rights Defense Program at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (IRDP) took particular offense at Covino’s suggestion of having Shapiro appear alongside speakers with opposing views. “It seems pretty clearly to be an unconstitutional action by the university,” he said. “What the university can’t do is what it’s done, which is apparently compel the YAF chapter to include a diverse range of speakers, including speakers presumably who would be opposed to Ben Shapiro’s viewpoint, as a condition of having him on campus as their guest.”
The American Association of University Professors, which warns against citing balance in requiring speakers with opposing views to share a stage, gives this view. “Campus groups should not be compelled to invite someone they do not want to hear as a condition for inviting someone they do want to hear,” reads a letter from the organization about outside speakers and academic freedom. “It would be improper for a university administration to require the College Republicans to invite Barack Obama in order to ‘balance’ Dick Cheney …. A different student group can invite Obama, or the university can create its own event and add it to the campus schedule.”
Never ending opinions endured, as Jose Castenada, a student at Cal State who organized a rally against Shapiro’s speech, felt the cancellation was the right thing to do. “Ben Shapiro’s rhetoric directly attacks black and African-American, LGBTQ, and other marginalized communities,” Castaneda said in an email. “Shapiro is using his college tour as an excuse to continue the same hateful rhetoric we have seen throughout U.S. history.”… “I believe the university administration handled this event well,” Castaneda said. … “It is a mistake,” Castaneda said, “to allow for incredibly misguided speakers to divide college campuses with polarized views…
Shapiro supporters of bringing him onto campus were told they would need to cover security costs – a requirement they feel is unconstitutional, though the university said that was not part of why it canceled Shapiro’s appearance.
Security issues remain a sore point. A letter from the conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of YAF, says the university unconstitutionally charged the student group $621.50 for security services, noting that the speaker was controversial as its reason. Attached to the letter is a public safety work request from the student union director of operations; “Mr. Shapiro’s topics and views are controversial, therefore university police will be assigned to this event.”
Peter Bonilla, the IRDP director, also said that if these are accurate charges they do appear to be unconstitutional. “If the university judges security is necessary, then that’s fine, but it can’t pass those costs along to the students… “If universities could pass on these extra security costs directly to the students holding the events, it could be all too easy for the groups with opposing viewpoints to see that group’s events were priced into oblivion.”
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