• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

The Cost of Free Speech on Campus

There is much to fear and loathe in the latest example of militant and violent campus intolerance. At Middlebury College in Vermont, dozens of furious students (and, likely, others from off campus) shouted down a campus talk by a visiting professor, crushed the subsequent attempt to livestream the lecture, and then hassled and physically harmed the host of the event, a female Middlebury professor.

It appears that those in charge tried to do their jobs in a careful and effective way, before, during, and after the event. Various Middlebury professors, administrators, and security personnel strove to strike the difficult balance between defending freedom of speech for the event participants and maintaining freedom of speech for protestors.

Alas, however, when people will not be reasoned with and resort instead to violence, persuasion must give way to redemptive coercion. And that’s what, so far, has been lacking at Middlebury, as it has been lacking so many other places as well.

If disgruntled students, professors, and other university citizens act in ways that directly prevent the university from fulfilling its mission, they must be called to account, instructed carefully in case they have misunderstood, and then prevented from subsequently impeding their fellows from pursuing that mission.

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