LTE on Walking the Free-Speech Walk

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[I wrote an LTE to my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, duplicated with links added below. I'll update if it gets printed.]

In the May 1 edition of Foster's ("UNH hopes Unity Day replaces Cinco de Mayo") I saw that UNH Dean of Students John T. Kirkpatrick is claiming to be "a champion of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech." Excellent! Although his real concern seemed to be that students avoid dressing in Mexican attire for Cinco de Mayo, lest some of their peers take offense. Noteworthy quote: "The key is education,” said Kirkpatrick. “We can’t say ‘no sombreros,’ but we can tell them why it’s bad.”

(If this sounds familiar, it's because he said similar things about regrettable costumery last October during the preparations for Halloween.)

The very next day, May 2, another front-page article ("Not all welcome UNH free speech event") described the previous evening's happenings at an event sponsored by the UNH chapter of Turning Point USA, where some students attempted to "stop it from occurring by keeping attendees from entering the arena and by attempting to disrupt the talk given by political commentator and comedian Dave Rubin." A "human chain" was formed to try to block attendees' access; efforts were made to silence the speaker with chants and noisemakers.

This is a wonderful opportunity for Dean Kirkpatrick to demonstrate that he really is the "champion of the First Amendment" he declares himself to be. The attempt to shut down and silence peaceful campus speakers is a clear challenge to free expression. Will the Dean condemn such behavior with at least the same public enthusiasm he shows in criticizing poncho-wearing students?

There's a more concrete issue as well. Unlike the odd culture-appropriating student, these students were actually violating UNH's Code of Conduct. (See Article III, item 2: "disrupting or obstructing" University activities is an offense.) Perhaps the Dean could take a small timeout from lecturing kids "why it's bad" to wear a sombrero, and a little more time educating the disruptors about civil and respectful behavior when some members of the UNH community dare to challenge the prevailing campus orthodoxy.