At UCLA earlier this month a book about “Islamic Totalitarianism” prompted a group of student protesters to allegedly form a human shield around a table holding the publication, a confrontation that ended after a campus official demanded the books be removed.
The incident took place before a panel discussion Feb. 1 on the threat to free speech co-hosted by the UCLA chapter of the Federalist Society and the Ayn Rand Institute.
The university has since apologized for the incident and has implemented procedures to ensure it does not happen again, and a campus spokesman disputes the claim that students formed a human shield to block the book.
The book that drew the ire of protesters is “Failing to Confront Islamic Totalitarianism: From George W. Bush to Barack Obama and Beyond.” Its co-author, Elan Journo, director of policy research at the Ayn Rand Institute, was not at the event but was told by his staffers who were there what happened.
Journo told The College Fix that approximately twelve UCLA students expressed disapproval of the publication’s “insulting” language and effectively formed something like a human barricade around the table where his book was presented during a reception prior to the talk.
In an article in The Hill, Journo states that “at this point, you might hope the UCLA administration would step in to re-assert the principle of intellectual freedom that is so crucial to education, a free society, and the advancement of human knowledge. Finally a rep from UCLA did step in–to abet the student protestors. My book was ‘inflammatory.’ It had to go.”
“Thus: at a panel about freedom of speech and growing threats to it – not least from Islamists – UCLA students and school administrators tried to ban a book that highlights the importance of free speech, the persistent failure to confront Islamic totalitarianism, and that movement’s global assaults on free speech.”
Journo told The College Fix that “based on eyewitness accounts of my colleagues on the scene … when the UCLA rep stepped in, my colleagues who were staffing the table tried to point out the absurdity of ban the book. At that point, the rep picked up the stack of books and demanded that all copies of the book be removed, and that either he would take them or they could be put them under the table.”
“Not wanting to escalate the dispute or delay the event, which was about to start, the staff manning the display table decided to put the stack of books under the table. That was about the time the event began, and people entered the auditorium. The protesting students dispersed, except for two who attended the event,” Journo told The Fix.
Later, during the panel event, YouTube broadcaster Dave Rubin, who also served as the event moderator, held up a copy of Journo’s book, bringing to light the irony of the situation.
Rubin placed the book on the table and jokingly stated that it’s a “scary thing filled with words.”
He added: “It’s just a book and it’s a set of ideas.”
Reached for comment, ULCA Law’s Executive Director of Communications Bill Kisliuk said in an email to The College Fix that “it is true that that a UCLA staffer made an error in judgment and requested that a book be removed from sale in violation of university policy.”
“The school has since apologized for this action and taken steps to prevent it from happening again. It is worth noting that the evening’s event, in which speakers addressed a student audience and exchanged in a free flow of ideas, proceeded without interruption or interference,” Kisliuk said.
The speakers included Flemming Rose, author of “The Tyranny of Silence,” and Steve Simpson of the Ayn Rand Institute.
In his email to The College Fix, Kisliuk also pointed out that while the institute “had permission to have a table in the hallway outside the event, ARI representatives never indicated in multiple discussions with UCLA officials beforehand that they planned to sell materials. University of California and UCLA policy require that third-party organizations obtain advance approval before seeking to sell products on campus.”
Kisliuk also disputes the claim that the students formed a human shield.
“Prior to the event, several students gathered at the ARI table and engaged in dialogue about the book. They did not seek to impede attendees interested in the book, nor was anyone prevented from entering the room where the panel discussion took place,” he said. “A member of the UCLA Law staff did ask an ARI representative to stop selling copies of the book. While ARI staff removed copies of the book from the table on request, at least one copy remained visible on the table until ARI packed its materials and stopped staffing the table.”
Kisliuk said that in a letter of apology to the Ayn Rand Institute, Law Dean Jennifer Mnookin stated that the request to remove copies of the book was not in keeping with UCLA’s Law – or her – vigorous commitment to support free speech and respectful debate.
Moving forward, Mnookin has partnered with administration to hatch out a plan for enhancing policies and procedures which would prevent this occurrence from repeating. Kisliuk describes how the plan now includes “improved student organization training in regard to protection of free speech at events.”