John Leo
Controversies on the modern campus tend to follow a rigid story line:

1. Brownshirt activity erupts (speakers prevented from speaking, newspapers stolen and/or burned, editorial offices or dean's offices trashed).

2. The administration says quietly that this is not a good thing, or it mumbles indecisively that two great ideals are in conflict: diversity and free expression.

3. Protesters and half the faculty take an impassioned pro-brownshirt stance, arguing that the so-called offense was an understandable reaction to hate speech and great psychic injury. They refer here to the pain of being exposed to ideas they don't agree with. If thousands of papers have been stolen so that nobody can read them, at least four boneheaded professors will announce triumphantly that you can't steal free papers.

4. The administration switches into its therapy mode and it talks about the insensitivity that provoked the brownshirt eruption. A small and veiled reference to free speech is allowable at this point, but the main emphasis is on feelings and the need to protect them from hurtful expression. The administration insists that the wounded feelings of the perpetrators need the caring attention of the whole university.

This scenario unfolded as scripted at Brown University after the student newspaper, the Daily Herald, ran an ad by conservative author David Horowitz. In sometimes provocative and pugnacious language, the ad denounced the idea of paying reparations to the descendants of American slaves. "We certainly don't reject advertising on its political content," said the editor in chief, Brooks King. "It's disgraceful not to run an ad because people on your campus are going to disagree with it."

Protesters demanded that the money charged for the ad be turned over to them, but the editors said no. So protesters stole 4,000 copies of the newspaper and replaced them on the racks with fliers charging the editors with insensitivity. They also tried to break into the Herald office to destroy the remaining copies of that day's paper.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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