Campus disinvitation attempts are on the decline, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. A Princeton University student who organizes campus debates says that’s no reason to celebrate.
Adam Hoffman gives personal context to FIRE’s numbers, which say reported disinvitations peaked in 2016 – coincidentally when anti-feminist provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was a popular campus speaker.
In an essay for National Review, Hoffman shares his frustrations trying to get approval for right-leaning speakers to invite on behalf of Princeton’s American Whig-Cliosophic Society, the oldest collegiate debate society in America. (Hoffman is president of the Cliosophic Society, which leans right.)
His proposed slate was hardly fringe – Hoffman included columnist and Princeton alum George Will, who has never been shy about disagreeing with mainstream conservatism, and federal appellate judge Neomi Rao.
Yet his colleagues flagged his choices for further review while glancing past the “extreme progressives” put forward by the left-leaning American Whig Society:
Unfortunately, the speakers’ fates seemed sealed before we even began consideration. Some on the Speakers Council deemed George Will too controversial for campus, on the basis of his writing on “marginalized groups,” particularly his accused insensitivity for victims of sexual assault. The Governing Council feared his heterodox views would trigger discomfort and lead to protests. …
A similar debate ensued about Judge Neomi Rao. Rao’s college writing on sexual assault and race apparently disqualified her from lecturing on constitutional theory. In recent years, Rao has distanced herself from her past controversial writing, as seen in her public apology during a Senate confirmation hearing. But for these righteous progressives, sins can never be forgiven.
Hoffman notes the extreme bias toward left-leaning speakers in university events and commencements in recent years, which show that conservatives “have in effect been exorcised from academic settings.”
Those advocating for campus free speech “must recognize that disinvitations are no longer the standard for quashing debate and curbing conservative views,” Hoffman argues:
Campus activists have become wily. By holding back invitations absolutely, they can quietly keep students in their echo chambers. Today, right-leaning speakers are shut down before they can even open their mouths.
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