On March 2, a violent leftist mob at Middlebury College kept one of the nation’s most distinguished writers and researchers from speaking. Is that a bad omen for freedom – or have campus radicals at last gone too far?
University of North Carolina Wilmington criminology Professor Mike Adams said Tuesday that college campuses may indeed be at a tipping point – but he was hopeful it was a good one, in that campus radicals may have overplayed their hand.
The Middlebury speaker was Charles Murray, author of “Coming Apart,” among other major works that examine our society. Left-wing activists shouted him down, and harassed him as he left; a professor assisting Murray was injured in the melee.
Is this a harbinger of the future? Murray recently wrote that, in the aftermath, he was pessimistic, and feared that “absent an adequate disciplinary response, I fear that the Middlebury episode could become an inflection point,” that is, the start of a downward spiral of increased campus violence and repression.
Interviewed before his talk at the Icon Lecture Series Tuesday night in Chapel Hill, Adams, a columnist and defender of free speech, noted the dangers of the Left’s assault on campus freedoms. But, Adams said, leftists may have gone too far for the comfort of their left-wing allies, especially those whose secure, well-paid jobs depend on universities functioning smoothly.
“Hopefully the Left is realizing they are creating a monster that is out of control,” he said. As he has pointed out in columns, “The chickens of diversity are coming home to roost.”
To look at just a couple of incidents, at Yale University, a mob of students screamed at two professors, who are married, over an email that suggested … wait for it … that any students who were offended by a Halloween costume just look away. The two professors later resigned.
Protestors caused such tumult at the University of Missouri that in 2015 the university’s president and chancellor resigned. The fallout: Last fall, enrollment was down 2,100 students.
That’s the kind of thing that catches the attention of college administrators. Though they are usually from the Left, Adams said, they want to protect their cushy jobs. “They better figure it out: This idea that emotions trump ideas is going to cause mass chaos on campuses.”
He added, “There is actually a chance now that they’ll look at it now, and say, uh oh, we’re having rioting and safety issues, now we’ve got to go undo some of this mess.”
Strong stands can work, he said. One of his appearances at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ended with protestors violently disrupting the event and threatening participants, but security guards did nothing. Appearing on that campus at a later date, Adams realized the guards were under contract to the event organizers. He pulled the security guards aside and told them: “You will – if someone stands up and disrupts this speech – you will arrest them or you’re going to get sued for breach of contract.”
“What do you think happened that evening?” he continued. “Two people got up screaming, and they were carried away in handcuffs and arrested. …. A third person got up and started screaming, and I said, ‘Do you want to follow them to jail?’”
The answer was evidently no. That would-be protestor got quiet in a hurry. “We had calm for the rest of the evening,” Adams said.
Are university big shots getting the same message? “The leftist administrators need to realize, you can’t get left enough to please these people. So it’s in [administrators’] interests to control these folks or otherwise [protestors are] going to call for their heads, going right back to the resignation of the president of Mizzou.”
For a long time, “administrators looked the other way because they thought they could,” he added. But “when they could be facing something that’s truly destructive to their interests, their ideology has to be put aside … When you have violent mobs on campus, what do you think is going to happen to enrollment? Simply look at Mizzou.”
For all these reasons, in the aftermath of such campus events, “This could be a turning point” in the war on campus free speech, he concluded. “We’ll see.”