Last week the student chapter of Turning Point USA at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) attempted to show on campus a film, “The Greatest Lie Ever Sold: George Floyd and the Rise of BLM,” produced by The Daily Wire and narrated by Candace Owens.
Fifteen minutes into the film, before an audience of approximately fifty students and others intrigued by the title of the film and curious about its contents, roughly the same number of students, at least one faculty member, and possibly others unaffiliated with the university stormed onto the stage, screaming that the film was “racist” and holding signs proclaiming it “hate speech.” By doing so, they prevented the audience from watching it.
To his credit, Dr. Craig Wright, CCSU’s Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, implored the protestors to disperse and continue their protest outside. Reluctantly, they did so.
But by beating drums and screaming loudly enough, the protestors made it impossible for the audience inside to hear the movie. Periodically, protestors embedded in the audience screamed slogans and stormed the stage, preventing the movie from being seen.
In response the campus police at the event did nothing. Finally, the president of the TPUSA chapter had no choice but to stop the film, before the audience had any real idea of its contents.
In the end the protestors won.
The arrogance of the protestors and their enablers on the CCSU faculty is staggering. They clearly believe they can silence anyone whose opinions are different from their own, and that they will not be held liable for their thuggish behavior.
This past November CCSU formally upheld the same TPUSA students’ right to show a film critical of trans-gender surgery and the sterilization of children this sometimes entails. But it did so with obvious reluctance, citing legal obligations rather than any awareness of how essential free expression is to the university’s foundational commitment to the production and dissemination of knowledge.
After the more recent event, CCSU Associate Vice President of Communications and Media Jodi Latina stated publicly that suppression of speech will not be tolerated. But in the absence of any punishment, or even a reprimand, of the offending students, her promise rings hollow.
What happened at CCSU is not unique. Suppression of opinions students find “offensive” is so pervasive on America’s colleges and universities that according to a recent nationwide poll of 45,000 students conducted by the Foundation of Individual Rights and Expression, 61% of those polled said they would feel “uncomfortable” expressing an unpopular opinion to fellow students on social media. When asked which opinions should be barred from expression on their campus, 73% agreed that speakers calling Black Lives Matter a “hate group” should be prohibited, while 60% felt the same concerning the immorality of all abortions. Even worse, only 37% of the students polled believe that shouting down a speaker at a university is never acceptable, while 22% said there were circumstances in which violence would be justified in silencing a speaker they disagreed with.
The enforcement of a left-wing ideological orthodoxy on issues such as abortion, race, and transgenderism is not only contrary to the very purpose of a university. It also reveals the “diversity” to which university administrators are so loudly committed to be in fact its exact opposite: a racially and ethnically heterogenous student body that nonetheless thinks the same things and is entitled to silence with impunity any opinion it finds objectionable.
The justification several of the CCSU protestors offered for their authoritarianism is that the expression of certain ideas, even absent any exhortation to violence, can somehow jeopardize a person’s physical safety, and for that reason alone can be prohibited. But they cited no evidence to substantiate their concern. Not once in the over three decades on which I have served on the CCSU faculty has the expression of an idea, whether in a film or by a speaker on campus, led to violence or to any physical altercation.
Unless universities are what John Stuart Mill famously termed “a free marketplace of ideas,” in which ideas are like the products in stores consumers evaluate freely before purchasing them, they are mere engines of ideological indoctrination. As such, they are no different from universities in the Soviet Union, Communist China, and North Korea.
But there is cause for hope. Aware of the likely result, the TPUSA students at CCSU persevered, and by asserting their own right to free expression, they affirmed the right of all students to free expression. For their courage and commitment to principle, they deserve the respect and gratitude of everyone.
Jay Bergman is Professor of History at CCSU and faculty advisor to the CCSU TPUSA chapter. He also serves on the board of directors of the National Association of Scholars.