Friday, March 08, 2019

"Over the Top" Reaction to a Conservative Speaker at Yale Law School?

Mark Tushnet

I post this to provide some information relevant to current discussions of free speech controversies on campus. A member of the Federalist Society at Yale Law School wrote an on-line article about a recent episode there. (I'm going to quote from the article, with some interpolations, but not link to it.)

The author "and my friends" invited a lawyer from the Alliance Defense Fund to speak at the Law School. (This is an odd formulation. The Yale Law Federalist Society website indicates that it sponsored an event with a lawyer from the ADF on Feb. 26. This is relevant to something later in the article.) The author and his friends "sent out a school-wide email announcement of the event." The reaction was "over-the-top even by Yale standards."

What was the reaction? A large number of student groups organized a boycott of the event. "In addition to the boycott, some students said people who supported ADF’s position should no longer be admitted to the law school. One student emailed a list of the Federalist Society board members (publicly available information) so students would know whom to 'thank' for this event."

On the day of the event what happened? "Around 30 people attended. The boycotters decorated the front door with rainbow posters, but mostly stuck to protests and support groups in other rooms. The one disruption occurred near the end of the event, when three students walked in, rifled through empty pizza boxes, and left with a couple leftovers. On their way out, one of the protestors blew us a kiss and gave us the middle finger."

So, let me get this straight. A student group invited a speaker. Other students organized a boycott, which consisted of "protests and support groups in other rooms." That looks a lot like counter-speech to me, and there's no indication that the protests and support groups interfered with the ability of those attending the event to hear what the speaker had to say. One person who objected to the speaker's view distributed an e-mail with publicly available information about the event's sponsors, suggesting that the sponsors be sent snarky messages. 

The event occurred, with a number amounting to about 5% of the Law School student body attending. There's no indication that the speaker's presentation was interrupted. The "disruption" consisted of students -- as they do pretty much after all lunch-time events at Harvard at least -- looking for a free meal by picking through the leftovers from the event and snarkily flipping the bird. Some students "said" (expressed the view) that supporters of the ADF's position shouldn't be admitted to the Law School. That sounds like an expression of a view about admissions policy, well within bounds for those without authority over admissions.

If this is "over-the-top even by Yale standards," things are pretty calm at Yale.

I look forward to finding out if this episode enters the canon of conservative stories about limitations of free speech on campus. The story was published in an on-line affiliate of RealClearPolitics, so there's some chance that it will.

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