Freedom from Speech

If you believe in free speech, don't go to college. What happened at the University of Missouri in Columbia this week shows that a lot of college students and even some of their faculty don't believe in the exchange of free speech and ideas anymore.

Students demonstrating in a public place against racial incidents at the university had set up a "press free" zone in which they demanded not to be bothered by reporters. They did this while staging an event certain to attract reporters.

A gutsy student photographer named Tim Tai stood his ground. Citing his First Amendment right to be there, he took pictures until a group of students pushed him away, saying he had no right to take their picture. It was as if they were saying, "We have our constitutional rights but you can't have yours."

Another student who took video of the incident then turned his camera on Melissa Click, an assistant professor of "communications," not journalism. The student said, "I'm media can I talk to you?" She said, "No, you need to get out." When he replied, "I don't," she then turned and shouted, "Hey who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here!"

So, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri, someone who makes her living in the realm of ideas, actually called for some "muscle" against a reporter covering ... ideas. And she's the chair of the university's Student Publications Committee, the guardian of the school's free press, which serves as the town newspaper.

This happened amid a national atmosphere in which college students are demanding "safe zones" and "trigger warnings" to protect them from thoughts, ideas, and subjects that might trouble them. They are demanding not to be hurt by life. And some of the adults have bought into this BS.

According to some students, conversation or questions that reveal racial and economic differences can amount to a "classist micro-aggression," a term that, surprisingly enough, was not coined during China's Cultural Revolution. A "micro-aggression," as opposed to say a major aggression or taking over Crimea, is an offhand comment that points out the differences between rich and poor, white and nonwhite. Something like, "Where are you from?"

I know one college student who says that, as a result, 'I don't know what I'm allowed to ask." And there ends the conversation in which people of different backgrounds can learn about each other and go on into the world understanding each other.

A trend at many universities is to erase, not understand differences between people for fear of having disagreement. Even the bathrooms are gender neutral. While wrestling with some difficult issues involving sex, gender, and economic class, it has become offensive to disagree with some of the imposed conclusions of unquestioning tolerance. Is a man really a woman just because he says he is? Can we talk about that?

The demonstrations at the University of Missouri ended with the resignation of its president and campus chancellor because they fumbled race relations, but also because the demonstrations attracted national press coverage. Mizzou was in an embarrassing spotlight and they had to go.

But Melissa Click, who has a PhD in communications and says one of her specialties is "media literacy," acted at the demonstration as though she doesn't believe in a free press covering a story. In a semi-sincere apology for which she would earn at best a "C," she said, "I regret the language and strategies I used." She still doesn't seem to regret being against a free press, but the university shouldn't fire her. Freedom of speech allows for stupidity, too.