The House Oversight Committee held a hearing today titled “Challenges to Freedom of Speech on College Campuses.” The hearing reviewed recent anti-speech incidents on college campuses with testimony from five witnesses including Ben Shapiro and comedian Adam Carolla.
Shapiro offered prepared remarks with his usual rapid-fire delivery. He said the problems seen on campus this year were a result of an underlying ideology. “Free speech is under assault because of a three step argument made by the advocates and justifiers of violence,” Shapiro said. He continued, “The first step is that they say the validity or invalidity of an argument can be judged solely by the ethnic, sexual, racial or cultural identity of the person making the argument.
“The second step is they say that claim those who say otherwise are engaging in what they call verbal violence. And the final step is that they conclude that physical violence is sometimes justified in order to stop such verbal violence.”
Shapiro then went on to argue that step one was the spreading ideology of intersectionality which he said had dominated college campuses and “a large segment, unfortunately, of today’s Democratic Party.” Intersectionality creates the spectrum of victimhood which deems some speech hostile and tantamount to violence. And once speech is seen as part of a system of oppression (white supremacy, patriarchy, etc.) it is a small step from there to argue that resistance to such speech should go beyond speaking. In fact, it often leads to protests which either engage in violence or threaten violence. The threat of violence is often enough to create a heckler’s veto, i.e. shutting down speech to prevent those who oppose it from becoming violent.
The alternative to this is the traditional (liberal) view that speech is judged on its merits, not by the race, sex or other qualities of the person making the speech. This is a very solid five-minute version of an argument that really could take hours:
Comedian Adam Carolla spoke immediately after Shaprio. Carolla described how he did a tour of college campuses about 15 years ago with “nary a word of negativity and no safe spaces.” “Fifteen years later, I went out with Dennis Prager, conservative talk-show host, and attempted to do a show at Cal State Northridge,” Carolla said. “They pulled the plug on it. They gave us no good reason why we couldn’t speak there and we actually had to get attorneys involved to go back and speak at a later date,” he said.
Later, Carolla compared college students to astronauts in zero gravity saying they “lose muscle mass, they lose bone density.” Putting kids in a safe space college environment, he said, was similar and would result in students who were fragile and unable to handle the real world after college.
Another person who testified today was Dr. Michael Zimmerman. He’s the former provost and vice president for student affairs at Evergreen State College who recently wrote the following at Huff Post about what happened at the school:
The Evergreen campus has become a place where identity politics takes precedence over every other aspect of social intercourse. It has become a place where it is acceptable for colleagues to levy personal attacks on colleagues in response to differences of opinion and even in response to calls for dialogue. It has become a place where it is acceptable to shout down those with whom you disagree. And it has become a place where the administration watches from the sidelines, apparently fearful of antagonizing anyone.
The entire hearing ran about three hours. If you want more, the full video is here.