The right side of the pond: Michael Graham on US college free speech wars

From across the pond: Michael Graham on US college free speech wars

Friday, May 4, 2018

In the first instalment of his new column, talkRADIO presenter Michael Graham gives the US conservative viewpoint on current issues.

Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan knows well what it’s like to be the lone conservative in a public forum, surrounded by “tolerant” progressives who would prefer his silence. And his take on the current free speech debate and the problem of no-platforming?

It’s not that bad.

“Of course there are people on the Left who shrilly demand conformity and attribute the blackest and basest of motives to anyone who says something they disagree with, but I'm always astonished by how little impact that has on the population,” Hannan told me in an interview to air this Saturday night.

“And although people are always saying, ‘are we allowed to discuss immigration? Am I allowed to say this?’ Actually, if you spend any time listening to our media, we'll be talking about little else.”

“It’s worth remembering when you see a headline about somebody being cautioned from making a bad joke or whatever, that the reason it's a headline is because it's exceptional. It makes the news because it is an unusual occurrence.”

Not everyone agrees. Academy of Ideas director Claire Fox told talkRADIO’s Juliet Hartley-Brewer: "The most dangerous thing on university campus is the call-out culture."  

Reading reports of the UK’s campus system of 'safe spaces' and 'speech marshals', American conservatives snicker at the hypocrisy of allegedly liberal institutions who need thought-police babysitters to defend that most liberal of values – diversity.

Well, we would be snickering if we weren’t so busy being chased off campuses here in the US.  For while it is true that the recent insane cases of criminal speech prosecution making headlines in the UK would never happen here (the “hate pug” story, for instance), it’s also true that our campuses are far more unfriendly to free speech than in Great Britain.

We’ve literally had riots, car burnings and physical attacks from the campus Left in attempts—often successful—to keep speakers off campus due solely to the content of their speech.  

At uber-liberal Middlebury College in Vermont last year, a professor was injured (and required hospital treatment) by a mob of angry students.

At Wellesley, Hillary Clinton’s alma mater, the university recently seized control of a student organization promoting ideological diversity due to backlash from their fellow students.  

“I’ve always been really liberal, but I feel like the liberalness here isn’t actually, like liberal.

“It’s like a very specific set of ideas you need to cohere to completely if you don’t want to be labeled anything,” Wellesley student Melissa He told FIRE, an organization promoting free speech on college campuses.

And of course there’s the infamous scene of fires raging and Republican students being assaulted at Berkeley last year, as Antifa activists went on a rampage to keep far-Right populist provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking.

It worked, by the way.

In fact, attacks on free speech at US campuses have worked far better than most people realise. Many liberal colleges simply don’t invite conservative speakers in the first place.  Student groups, facing peer pressure and threats of huge security costs, are changing their programming and the result is less ideological diversity.

Is Dan Hannan right that free speech in the UK is in better shape than some on the Right believe? Or is it the case that US campuses are so bad that the Brits look better by comparison.

Michael's show is on every Saturday between 10pm-1am.