Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer appeared Thursday night at a Northeastern Illinois University event, and some people disapproved. More than 200 students and faculty and staff members protested. “This is an affront to everyone who goes here,” student Raeghn Draper said.
In other words, the event was a shining success. NEIU exemplified how a university should embrace free expression — speech and counter-speech — rather than cancel a forum because some members of the community dislike the speaker or topic.
Spicer, who worked for President Donald Trump, appeared with Donna Brazile, former head of the Democratic National Committee, to discuss the 2020 election. No university funds were involved, but some members of the NEIU community saw Spicer’s appearance as an endorsement of Trump.
College campuses tend to lean liberal. But no ideology should breed the intolerance evident when students and professors clamor to be protected from people and ideas they consider anathema. So some speakers, typically conservatives, are disinvited from events or angrily shouted down. Many speakers are never invited in the first place.
Yet colleges are places of learning where ideas should be explored and judged on the merits. Turning a campus into an intellectually comfy cocoon disserves students, who lose the chance to shop for themselves in the marketplace of ideas. Protecting students also teaches a useless lesson about the value of safe spaces: Once out of college, people rarely get to declare their lives controversy-free zones. Everyone has to deal with other people, even the ones they find disagreeable.
NEIU stood its ground. Administrators didn’t cave to anger. Spicer did appear, with apparently minimal interruption from one person who jumped on the stage. Those who didn’t want Spicer on campus had their say: The university provided designated areas for protesters. Speech was met with speech.
All who participated should feel good about that.
Now, who’s next to be invited to campus?
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE