It’s been quiet around campus this week; it’s Spring break. Yet, things are brewing since a big-name politician visited the school and was heckled by 2 students—yes, two out of hundreds present. It was horrible. These two “anarchists” got up, yelled, “war criminal”, and sat down. This “unauthorized protest” took no more than a few seconds. In the ambient sounds of the auditorium and the exaltation on stage, what those ..party poopers shouted wasn’t really audible. I was sitting near them and I couldn't understand what they were yelling about.
We know that the present government uses the politics of fear. The “war president” and his administration have nothing else to stand on—they’ve messed up on all matters pertaining to the common good—except to keep reminding us that we live in a time of terrorism and strong-armed policies are necessary to combat the enemy who’s everywhere, in a war without fronts & without end. Hello, Big Brother, may I take your order? All right, you say, we still have some bastions of free inquiry, discussion, and even dissent. They are our universities, where we value free speech so much that we give tenure to professors in order to shield them from the community and from those who may not like what they profess! To this I reply, not so fast! The disease of acquiescing and deferring to the wisdom of the rulers has taken hold here too.
How then would you explain that a university is considering punitive action, up to and including expulsion, against those protesting students? “They didn’t have a permit for a protest,” I heard someone of authority saying! Yes, you need to file a petition way ahead of time and obtain a permit to hold up a sign on school grounds to protest against a visiting politician! Surely, you have rights of free speech, unless the administration forgets to issue the permit in time for the event, and unless your speech is embarrassing to the powers that be. Well done. Wait, there’s more. Like many things in life, the actual event may not be of a great significance, but the reaction often makes a lot more noise. Likewise in this case, it’s not “the crime” that’s generating the controversy but the subsequent treatment of it.
After the two students sat down in their seats, the police and the Secret Service took them into custody. This on private property of a sovereign university. Without the presence of any representative from the school, the students were detained for 45 minutes. According to them, they were told that the police could detain them for 72 hours and order a psychiatric evaluation [I suppose they meant the students, not the other hotheads]; they were also asked to sign a release form so their medical records could be examined [as if the government really asks for permission nowadays]. Then the students, along with four more people in their party, were escorted to their cars. The police asked them if they had any illegal drugs in their cars, because, they were told that if they admitted the had contraband before the search took place, “it would be better.”
A recent poll showed that 49% of all Americans would give the President any authority to do whatever to keep us safe. Any! Aren’t we supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave? Ben Franklin wisely observed that those who seek to exchange liberty for safety deserve neither. Aren’t we supposed to have institutions where free speech is cultivated and dissent is an aspect of a free people engaging in a public discourse? I find it distressing that educated people entrusted with promoting knowledge & empowering the younger generations have a dim and narrow view of civic activism and political engagement.
Editor's note: In the Comments section, the official response by the University is posted.