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Education Reporter

Student Protesters Attempt to Silence Conservative Speakers
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For years, conservative speakers on college campuses have frequently met with student protesters who trespass the boundaries of decency and the peaceful expression of disagreement. Students interrupt speeches and harass and heckle both the visiting speakers and the conservative students who have brought them to campus. Three especially notable recent incidents have alarmed onlookers who are concerned for the future of free speech on campus.

In April, student protesters at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill interrupted and cut short a speech by former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo. Tancredo was to speak on the subject of in-state tuition benefits for illegal immigrants, which he opposes. Protesters inside the auditorium unrolled a banner declaring, "No one is illegal," while protesters outside chanted, "There's no debate, no space for hate." Tancredo left the stage partway through his speech after some of the protesters broke a window. (ABC News, 4-15-09)

Activist and author David Horowitz was barely able to continue a speech he gave this spring at the University of Texas at Austin. About 40 protestors, organized by professor Dana Cloud, greeted Horowitz with signs and chanting; but they allowed Horowitz to finish his speech after a representative of the administration warned the students they could be arrested unless they quieted down. (Wall Street Journal, 4-18-09)

At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, protesters drove conservative columnist Don Feder from the lectern in March. The Republican Club, which sponsored Feder's speech, was forced to pay three time the normal fee in security costs for the event, even though the security the university provided was obviously not sufficient for Feder to finish his speech.

According to Robert L. Shibley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the levying of higher fees on events featuring controversial conservative speakers has become a serious problem in American universities. "The more violent and disruptive the threatened protest, the higher the security costs will be demanded of the host, giving those most willing to be violent the strongest veto over campus discourse," writes Shibley. Such administrative policies "reward hecklers rather than students who wish to engage in civil debate and dialogue." Shibley warns that if universities continue to punish students for their viewpoints or for bringing dialogue to campus, it will be impossible for American higher education to function as a "marketplace of ideas" where First Amendment rights are honored and upheld. (Boston Globe, 4-9-09)

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