Political journalist, UT alumnus says free speech on college campuses ‘under attack’

Forrest Milburn

The culture of respectful debate and disagreement is “under attack” on college campuses, so that freedom of speech only applies to certain groups and not others, a UT alumnus and political journalist said Wednesday.

Kevin Williamson, a correspondent for the conservative-leaning newsmagazine National Review, discussed how constant protests and a lack of discussion and respectful disagreement have led to an atmosphere and culture that infringes on students’ First Amendment protections.

“I think I’m required by University of Texas policy to inform you that this is not a ‘safe place,’” Williamson said jokingly in his on-campus talk. 

Williamson, a native of Lubbock, Texas, and former Daily Texan managing editor, is a former newspaper editor of about 20 years. 

One example Williamson gave of how protests affect free speech on campus was the protests in support of Black Lives Matter on the University of Missouri campus last year. During one of the protests, which were spurred in response to concerns with how the University administration handles race issues, journalism professor Melissa Click was caught on video calling for “some muscle” to help remove student journalists from a protest circle.

“Consider for a moment what would have happened if it had been, say, a Donald Trump rally and a white, male, conservative football coach had smacked some black female reporter from the school newspaper and told her she didn’t belong here,” Williamson said. “Do you think he would have gotten home before the administration fired him?”

After the lecture, corporate communication senior Holmes Lybrand said he believes UT is a different breed of college campus in terms of how students handle disagreements and debate, particularly in how the Palestine Solidarity Committee and Texans for Israel can both hold conflicting demonstrations on campus such as they did on Wednesday, for example, without breaking out into violent protest.

“Nothing in terms of violence happened,” Holmes said. “That’s what it should look like.”

After listening to Williamson’s lecture, Andrew Jackson, College Republicans vice president and supply chain management junior, said educating students about the First Amendment is one way free speech can be protected on college campuses.

“The right for somebody to say something that you disagree with should not be infringed upon by the University and their policies,” Jackson said. “Everybody has something to say, and we should be able to respectfully listen to it and disagree with it if we feel that way.”