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Seemingly Troubling Behavior from NYU:

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group whose accounts I have generally found quite accurate, reports (see here for the version with links):

In violation of its own policies, New York University (NYU) is refusing to allow a student group to show the Danish cartoons of Mohammed at a public event tonight. Even though the purpose of the event is to show and discuss the cartoons, an administrator has suddenly ordered the students either not to display them or to exclude 150 off-campus guests from attending....

Earlier this month, the NYU Objectivist Club decided to hold a panel discussion entitled "Free Speech and the Danish Cartoons," at which the cartoons will be displayed.... Like previous NYU Objectivist Club events, the discussion was to be open to the public.

However, on Monday afternoon, NYU Director of Student Activities Robert Butler sent an e-mail requesting a meeting with the leaders of the Objectivist Club the next day. He also informed them that NYU would now "require that this event be open only to members of the NYU community." Butler cited "the campus climate and controversy surrounding the cartoons," ordering the students to inform the "non-NYU people" who had already registered that they "should not plan on attending." He concluded, "This is not negotiable."

Following the meeting, Butler sent another e-mail clarifying that the students have two choices: they must either not display the cartoons, or not allow anyone from off campus to attend the event. Approximately 150 off-campus guests are currently registered to attend....

NYU is a private institution, and is thus legally free to limits access to its property however it pleases. But most private universities have generally understood their mission as including enriching the intellectual lives of their students and fostering debate among students, including by helping the students spread the message to the broader community. FIRE reports that NYU has indeed accepted this view: "NYU's own policies recognize student groups' right to open events to the public." Events focusing on the Mohammed cartoons should be no less protected by NYU's policies than events focusing on other controversial ideological questions, whether involving race, sex, class, politics, or religion.

Now I understand that NYU might be concerned about the risk of vandalism or violence that might flow from events that display and discuss the cartoons. But it seems to me that leading universities should be at the forefront of defending speech against those who would suppress it, rather than giving in to the vandals' and thugs' heckler's veto.

Gabriel Rossman (www):
The UCLA Objectivist club had a similar event and according to the Daily Bruin there were no negative repercussions. Of course, UCLA is surrounded by Beverly Hills and Bel Air and not Washington Square so it's concievable that things could go differently at NYU. Nonetheless, even if the administration's fears are well-founded it's still cowardly and hypocritical.
3.29.2006 1:24pm
WB:
Ugh. I hope there are more details out there that would explain this.
3.29.2006 1:27pm
Goober (mail):
Concern about universities censoring speech in order to appease a vocal minority? Is this a backhanded joke at David Bernstein's collection, immediately below, of universities that are "safe" for conservatives? If so, subtle yet devastating.
3.29.2006 1:33pm
Cornellian (mail):
Of course, UCLA is surrounded by Beverly Hills and Bel Air and not Washington Square so it's concievable that things could go differently at NYU.

Yep, no subway to get the protesters to the event. Besides, it's not as if they could find parking even if they drove there.
3.29.2006 2:04pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Goober: David was actually quite clear in what he meant by "safe": "students and faculty will generally treat them respectfully, even if they are a small minority, and that they won't need to worry about being hauled before disciplinary committees because they said something politically incorrect that allegedly offended someone." David is looking for universities (and implicitly praising) in which (1) conservative students don't get punished for their views, and (2) conservative students are generally treated with respect. He is most certainly not praising universities in which anti-conservative speech is suppressed.

If you want an analogy, America is generally "safe for Jews" because Jews are generally treated with respect here, and generally not discriminated against -- even though American law does not suppress anti-Semitic speech. One can both praise respect for Jews and at the same time criticize coercive suppression of anti-Semitic speech (both if it is done by law and by private university policy). In fact, both David and I would do both.
3.29.2006 2:12pm
hey (mail):
I know this will aggravate the leftist readers, but LGF has a letter written by Maheen H Farooqi, the President of the Islamic Center at NYU, that if it is accurate explains the administration's actions. See http://tinyurl.com/f4rzk. This letter implicitly threatens violence at NYU if the administration does not put a stop to the Objectivists' display of the cartoons.

The comments there have been getting ridiculously venomous, but Charles and his readers are still producing interesting links not available otherwise. Essentially, a post with > 200 comments will be useless, but the longterm readers have good sources and info. No comment can be accurately attributed to suppoprters or detractors of a site, and both left and right have been attacking and trolling each others sites, just as they have been since ARPAnet days.
3.29.2006 4:35pm
hey (mail):
I can not spell, nor effectively edit my posts in preview. My apologies.
3.29.2006 4:36pm
Goober (mail):
Fair point, Prof. V., and I was being curt. The conflation of Prof. Bernstein's request with actual censorship was a sloppy and regrettable error.

However I must quibble with your gloss on Prof. Bernstein's question. If Prof. B was really only asking for universities where conservative views are treated with respect and not punished, then the correct answer would be "every university in America, save a terribly small handful, and many of them only if you give apocryphal evidence unusual credibility." But of course there's a canon of interpretation not to interpret to have an unreasable meaning where a plausible alternative will give it a reasonable meaning. You and I both know what Prof. Bernstein meant, that there are universities that are "safe" for conservatives, and a not-insignificant number that are not "safe" for conservatives.

Now of course there are, and there have been, and there likely will continue to be instances of universities that have punished conservative viewpoints, just as there are, have been, and will continue to be instances of conservatives vilifying the Dixie Chicks, New Yorkers being cruel to New Jersey, Coloradans poking mean-spirited fun at Texans and Californians, Dylan fans despising Donovan, and Red Sox fans saying unkind things about Derek Jeter. But the country is still "safe" for Dixie Chicks and Texans and overrated professional shortstops, and I take it from your analogy to America being "safe" for Jews that you'd excuse these incidental failures as well. (After all, the widespread acceptance of our people and the general rejection of anti-Semitism does not mean that no one tells an anti-Semitic joke or draws an anti-Semitic cartoon.)

So... yes, I was sloppy. But your apologia of Prof. Bernstein goes a little too far. And if you weren't making a joke at Prof. B, well, you should have been.
3.29.2006 4:47pm
Michael Kennedy (mail) (www):
UCI had a conference including the cartoons several weeks ago and I believe there was no trouble. The university danced around the issue of sponsorship but did allow it to go forward.
3.29.2006 5:02pm
Jake (mail):
I will be attending tonight, camera in hand, to see how things pan out. Will update you with any information.

-Jake
3.29.2006 5:31pm
RHD (mail):
"NYU is a private institution, and is thus legally free to limit access to its property however it pleases." Given the pervasive funding that all universities now receive from all levels of government, it is not necessarily a foregone conclusion that a court would find that NYU was sufficiently "private" to allow it to suppress speech, as it proposes to do here, on the usual PC grounds. I haven't looked at NYU's sources of funding but the federal and state gov'ts must account for a large percentage of it, by direct grants, scholarship funding, tax free bonding for new construction, etc. It strikes me as a litigable issue. But I don't practice in this area, and thus don't know whether that issue has already been litigated, either with respect to NYU or other similar instititions.
3.29.2006 5:33pm
byrd (mail):

Now of course there are, and there have been, and there likely will continue to be instances of universities that have punished conservative viewpoints, just as there are, have been, and will continue to be instances of conservatives vilifying the Dixie Chicks, New Yorkers being cruel to New Jersey, Coloradans poking mean-spirited fun at Texans and Californians, Dylan fans despising Donovan, and Red Sox fans saying unkind things about Derek Jeter. But the country is still "safe" for Dixie Chicks and Texans and overrated professional shortstops, and I take it from your analogy to America being "safe" for Jews that you'd excuse these incidental failures as well.


Goober: is it not really blatantly obvious which of these examples is fundamentally different from the others, and why?
3.29.2006 5:56pm
Goober (mail):
Well, Jeter really does suck, so I'm guessing you mean that one. In all seriousness, I'm afraid I miss your point: I had argued that, despite all the public vitriol that's thrown around in pretty much every direction, the objects of that vitriol still live in a "safe" environment. There are some people in America who don't like each of those I listed and are willing to say so out loud; that by itself doesn't make America an unsafe place for any of them. Likewise, incidental incidents on college campuses that actually do betray an aversion to conservatives does not make Professor Bernstein's post any less hyperbole.

But if you have a distinction in mind that you'd like to share, please let me know. As it is, I doubt it's a distinction-with-a-difference, but I'm happy to consider.
3.29.2006 6:24pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
RHD: Government funding does not make a private university a "state actor" subject to the First Amendment. See Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830 (1982).
3.29.2006 6:40pm
Alan Furman (mail):
It isn't a heckler's veto.

It's a brownshirt's veto.
3.29.2006 11:19pm