Nestled gently on the bosom of the Pioneer Valley, the University of Massachusetts has never really had much of an identity crisis when it comes to its political slant. UMass, and much of the surrounding area, could be accurately described as Smurf Blue.
But with that political mindset taken for granted at times, it’s easy to think why there’s a liberal consensus around these parts; except, of course, when that small, boisterous minority, which ironically tends to refer to itself as the opposition, makes its presence felt.
We’re talking Republicans here. Not that it’s a bad thing. I love Republicans – except for the crazy ones. Well, I guess that means I just hate crazy people that talk about politics.
This is all relevant because of a recent Huffington Post article, “The 12 worst colleges for free speech.” The piece, written by the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Greg Lukianoff, ranked UMass the fourth-worst school in the country for free speech.
The reasons, Lukianoff argued, were UMass’ strict policies on when and where “controversial” rallies can be held on campus and the school’s “long history of censorship.” For examples, Lukianoff cited the decision to revoke a rally permit for a pro-war rally after 9/11 and the incident two years ago with the conservative student newspaper, The Minuteman. For those who don’t remember, The Minuteman had made demeaning remarks towards two members of the Students Government Association (SGA), one of whom responded by taking a stack of The Minuteman and standing on them so no one could read them – it was a mess.
In both cases, conservative groups were screwed, with FIRE playing a direct role in the resolution of the latter.
So, what’s really going on here? Are Republicans really getting a bad wrap and rough treatment from the UMass administration, or is FIRE taking a pro-right pot shot at UMass now that it has an online audience? Probably a bit of both.
If anything, touting the First Amendment together with conservative rallies is like touting universal healthcare and liberal rallies. So it should come as no surprise FIRE is backing shafted conservatives. At the same time, though, they do have a point, just not the one they made.
Saying UMass has a long history of censorship isn’t particularly fair – despite the two aforementioned incidents. I can point you towards the rallies outside Whitmore over student fees, the China-Tibet rallies, or even the Israel-Palestine rallies. But apparently, these weren’t deemed “controversial” enough to make it onto FIRE’s list.
If Lukianoff wanted to make a case, it would be for Republicans being forced to jump through hoops to express their beliefs. It makes sense, though, why Republican rallies could be considered controversial – they’re unpopular.
Case in point: Don Feder.
Feder, who came to UMass to give a speech on how hate speech should be covered under free speech, eventually had his speech shut down, but not by the UMass administration. Instead, protesters gathered outside the Cape Cod Lounge in the Student Union eventually forced Feder to leave the stage. It wasn’t censorship; it was a guy getting booed offstage.
When it comes to free speech v. free speech, volume wins.
It’s unfair really, that, of all things, conservative viewpoints should be deemed “controversial.” There’s no reason pro-life should cause a bigger stir than pro-choice. But it does.
When it comes down to it, controversy is dependent on reactions, not content. In this area, anything with a whiff on the red side of the aisle is going to draw ire, and, to be honest, it’s really not fair.
In the end, though, this isn’t about free speech. It comes down to a vehement minority pushing for what they believe in and the University’s administration realizing people want to push back.
Does this mean they should stop? Absolutely not! Shine on you crazy diamonds.
Our political climate is one of the hallmarks of this school: the large, content pseudo-democratic majority and the small, disgruntled, redder-in-comparison minority. Problems only arise when the administration tries to cool down the atmosphere so things don’t get out of hand.
Is it censorship when this happens? Probably. It’s too bad, because Republicans don’t have too much to complain about since last November. It’s not the same when the right’s not riled up.
Nick O’Malley is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.