The president of the University of Oregon was blocked from giving a state-of-the-university speech on Oct. 6 to the students because of a small group of student protesters who disagreed with his stance on free speech on campus.
“Armed with a megaphone and raised fists, the protesters shouted about the university’s rising tuition,” wrote the president of the university, Michael H. Schill, in an op-ed in The New York Times. “[A]nd my support for free speech on campus — a stance they said perpetuated 'fascism and white supremacy.'”
Schill was quick to note the irony that the protesters “would associate fascism with the university during a protest in which they limit discourse.” A student went so far as to storm “the stage during my talk told the news media to 'expect resistance to anyone who opposes us,'” he wrote.
The culture of suppressing speech on college campuses has become pervasive throughout the country. Half of undergraduate students find it acceptable for a speaker to be disrupted or silenced by “loudly and repeatedly shouting” so the audience cannot hear, according to a Brookings Institution survey.
The same survey revealed an even more chilling statistic. A fifth of all undergrads find it acceptable for a student group to use violence in order to silence a speaker they disagree with.
Many students feel that cause is virtuous — that quelling certain types of speech silences fascists and white supremacists, whether real or perceived.
For Schill, however, the word “fascist” has a deeper meaning. “It’s the reason for great suffering in my family,” he writes. “Two generations ago, members of my extended family were thrown into concentration camps and murdered in Eastern Europe during the Holocaust.”
Schill's speech focused on a $50 million gift that would fund several programs at the university. He posted the recorded speech online. Hardly the type of speech that anyone could find offensive.
For those that silenced his speech, Schill had an unambiguous message.
“Historically, fascists sought to silence, imprison and even kill university professors and other intellectuals who resisted authoritarian rule. So the accusation that American universities somehow shelter or promote fascism is odd and severely misguided,” he wrote.