Blocking the Free Expression Tunnel is even worse

So far the way the NC State’s leaders have handled this latest tunnel controversy is completely counter to the idea of “Free Expression.” Beyond offering a mealy-mouthed “free expression, but” defense for selective censorship, they have also allowed mob rule to block access to all expression. Even for those students whose only “expression” by taking the Free Expression Tunnel is that they don’t want to walk a great unnecessary distance to the next available tunnel (the campus is divided by a railroad, and the three tunnels beneath it are the only access points to the class buildings from the dormitories — shutting one of those down, especially the one nearest most dormitories, is a major nuisance).

… About 40 students painted the tunnel black overnight to protest racist and homophobic graffiti involving President Barack Obama painted there earlier this week. Slurs and the name “Obama” were painted over the picture of a black man.

“It’s not about the N-word. It’s not about Obama. It’s about racism, period,” N.C. State sophomore Monique Bonds said.

These are perfectly appropriate actions to take. Fight offensive speech with more speech. Denounce it. Alienate it. Mock it. (Or act as if it never happened, which is an especially useful response if the “hate speaker” is merely trying to goad you into a hysterical overreaction.) But …

The protesters also stood locked arm-in-arm, sang and prevented anyone from passing through the tunnel.

At one point, other students got into a heated exchange with protesters, saying they agreed with the point but not the method of the protest. University police officers escorted students around the tunnel.

“We’ll be out here until we get an answer that we can guarantee that we don’t have to walk through this tunnel and worry about what’s written on the wall,” Bonds said.

This, however, is totally opposed to free expression, free speech, and also the kind of tough-minded intellectualism that a top university community is supposed to nurture. What kind of academic cannot handle an idea counter to his or her own beliefs and worldview? Supposedly a very important part of a university education is being challenged on those things. Outside of free-speech uproars, there isn’t a university official who would tell you different.

Blocking the tunnel and escorting students around the tunnel are completely the wrong ways to go about it, and it’s a terrible learning experience for students. When even the smartest young adults in the state are being conditioned to shut down avenues of speech that’s disagreeable to them and flee and cower behind the aprons of the authority figures when they encounter such speech, it’s no wonder statists are emboldened to attempt to censor radio and news broadcasts and the less intelligent think it’s right to call 911 to complain about the service at the drive-thru.

With all respect to Bonds and her fellow protesters, the day when you and I and anyone else are “guarantee that we don’t have to walk through this tunnel and worry about what’s written on the wall” is the day when free speech is finally completely dead on campus. And it’s a shame you are paying for a university education and not being taught how mentally to handle offensive ideas.

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

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