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A year after a disruption, U. Buffalo shares few details on how it protects free speech

Students were reportedly taught about free speech – but university remains quiet on details

While University at Buffalo officials promised to protect free speech in the wake of a disruption of Congressman Allen West’s event, nearly a year later, it is not clear what has changed.

At an event hosted by the University at Buffalo’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter last spring, conservative speaker Allen West, who is black, had to be escorted off campus by police after Black Lives Matter activists hijacked his speech. Video appeared to show a student leader being chased through campus, although county law enforcement recently announced there would be no charges against the leftist activists.

“Policies and guidelines were strengthened for on-campus student-organized events to create greater oversight of students’ logistical planning for events,” university Vice President of Communications John Della Contrada told The College Fix via email on March 17. “[This includes] identifying appropriate venue space, formalizing ticketing procedures, and managing attendance.”

Contrada also said that the university implemented “enhanced educational programming” to teach students the importance of free speech and nonviolent protest.

However, the university did not respond to a follow-up inquiry sent by The Fix that asked it to identify the specific policies that were changed and what exactly “enhanced educational programming” entailed for students.

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Young America’s Foundation, which brought West to campus, says it has not heard anything from university officials about free speech trainings and preventing future disruptions.

“To our knowledge, there has been no effort on the school’s behalf to prevent a repeat of what occurred during the West event last year,” YAF Director of Public Relations Michael McGonigle said in an email to The Fix on March 14.

A free speech group told The Fix public universities have a responsibility to keep students safe and protect First Amendment rights.

“Public universities bound by the First Amendment must uphold students’ free speech rights by protecting their expression events from substantial disruption,” Zachary Greenberg with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression told The Fix via email.

“Public universities have dual obligations to ensure students’ safety and protect their free speech rights,” the senior program officer said.

He also said that “[universities] can do this by applying content-neutral policies to protect invited speakers, addressing disruptions to events as they occur, and educating students about why silencing opposing speakers will only lead to more violence and less speech on campus.”

Greenberg also described the importance of protecting free speech on campus so that students can express a diverse set of ideas.

“Universities should be places where students have the broadest free speech right to explore the widest array of ideas,” Greenberg said.

“Without free speech, universities risk becoming ideological echo chambers, where students are ostracized for daring to voice their opinions,” the free speech advocate told The Fix. “We urge universities to protect free speech to ensure the quality of their education.”

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Jack Applewhite is a student at the University of Georgia majoring in risk management and insurance with a certificate in legal studies. Jack is a member of his university’s Turning Point USA and College Republicans chapter and serves in student government. He is also a contributor at Lone Conservative.