- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The president of the University of Oregon issued an op-ed Monday defending free speech and criticizing the student protesters who blocked his State of the University speech earlier this month.

Michael H. Schill said he had planned to announce a $50 million gift that would fund several new programs at the school, but instead was forced to post his remarks online after students stormed the stage and cut his speech short.

“Armed with a megaphone and raised fists, the protesters shouted about the university’s rising tuition, a perceived corporatization of public higher education and my support for free speech on campus — a stance they said perpetuated ‘fascism and white supremacy,’” Mr. Schill wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times, highlighted Tuesday by The Blaze.

Mr. Schill said that while he supports the right for the students to protest, he strongly opposes the “tactic of silencing” differing viewpoints, which has been gaining traction on college campuses across the country.

“Rather than helping people who feel they have little power or voice, students who squelch speech alienate those who are most likely to be sympathetic to their message,” he wrote. “It is also ironic that they would associate fascism with the university during a protest in which they limit discourse. One of the students who stormed the stage during my talk told the news media to ‘expect resistance to anyone who opposes us.’ That is awfully close to the language and practices of those the students say they vehemently oppose.

“Undoubtedly, the term ‘fascism’ has an effective anti-authoritarian ring to it, so perhaps that is why it is thrown around so much these days,” he continued. “But from what I can tell, much of what students are protesting, both at the University of Oregon and elsewhere, is the expression of viewpoints or ideologies that offend them and make them feel marginalized. They are fed up with what they see as a blanket protection of free speech that, at its extreme, permits the expression of views by neo-Nazis and white supremacists. I am opposed to all these groups stand for, but offensive speech can never be the sole criterion for shutting down a speaker.”

Mr. Schill argued that the university and the country as a whole cannot progress without the freedom to express ideas, even if those ideas are offensive.

“We in academia have a lot of big issues to tackle. One such topic — what to do about speech that offends vulnerable populations and how to protect speech and safety at the same time — presents a difficult challenge, but that makes the issue that much more important,” he concluded. “As with any important discussion, emotions can run high. But the only way to create change is to grapple with difficult issues. Nothing can be gained by shutting them out.”

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