Dear Montana Representatives:
On February 13th, I had the opportunity to speak in Dennison Theater at the University of Montana (UM). Events leading to the speech as well as events occurring during the speech made it clear that the Montana legislature must act to restore respect for freedom of speech on its publicly funded university campuses. I write today to ask that you pass specific free speech legislation we have already adopted in my home State of North Carolina.
Prior to my speech, in a bizarre statement to the entire university community, UM president Seth Bodnar stated, “Ours is a university driven by the core values of inclusiveness and equal opportunity. We stand united against divisiveness, intolerance, and hate.” He continued saying, “nor do we condone speech that is hateful or targets people based on their identities.” I characterize this statement as bizarre because he seems to be referring to me as the one responsible for “divisiveness, intolerance, and hate,” and as one who “targets people based on their identities.” This statement would have been more accurate had he been describing UM’s Dean of Journalism, Larry Abramson.
I have written previously with direct evidence that Larry Abramson had initially succeeded in excluding me from a limited public forum at UM based upon my viewpoints. I also documented indirect evidence that he did so based on my religion. (See my previous column, “Grizzly Bigotry at the University of Montana.”). There is now credible direct evidence that Abramson made his decision based upon my religion. This matter is serious and demands a formal investigation. I am fully prepared to supply the relevant evidence to the legislature should they decide to initiate a formal inquiry.
Unlike Dean Larry Abramson, I have never engaged in “the targeting of people based on their identity” for the purpose of excluding them from participating in the free exchange of ideas on a university campus. Accordingly, Bodnar is completely out of line when he lectures me while refusing to address the overt religious bigotry that exists within his own administration.
As embarrassing as Dean Abramson is, President Bodnar has an even bigger problem on his hands. As it stands, he is ruling over a campus that has been overtaken by petulant children who lose all semblance of emotional control when confronted with a contrary opinion. This was seen in my speech when an LGBT activist stood up in the middle of the theater with a sign reading, “Suck a (expletive for male sex organ) Mike Adams. I Won’t Judge You.”
As the adult male student waved the obscene sign in front of the women and children who were in attendance, he chanted “hate speech is not free speech!” Doubtless, he was encouraged by President Bodnar’s campus wide statement, which gave an air of legitimacy to their self-righteous indignation and mindless hysteria.
Shockingly, after police ejected the hysterical student, he returned for a second disruption. After the second disruption and ejection, he somehow managed to re-enter Dennison Theater again – this time standing behind me backstage concealed by the curtain. He shouted over me until he was ejected for a third and final time.
It was later revealed that this UM student (currently a music major) had stolen a key to the building allowing him to reenter at will. Therefore, this incident involves more than mere heckling. It involves criminal conduct. The incident underscores the need for President Bodnar to take a break from lecturing me on “divisiveness” and “intolerance” and “hate” and instead deal with the criminal/students that have overtaken his campus. Of course, there is little chance that he will display the courage necessary to bring that about. And that is why I am writing the legislature today.
The Foundation for Individual Right in Education, or FIRE, gives UM a rating of “red light” in its three level rating system. This means that UM has at least one policy, which substantially abridges freedom of expression. In the case of UM, the policy is a “harassment” policy, which is clearly overbroad. In other words, it bans more than just illegal and pervasive harassment. It also bans certain constitutionally protected speech. Ironically, the policy would allow the Muslim woman who shouted “bigot” during my speech to be convicted of harassment, although the substance of her outburst (in contrast to its expression at that time in the theater) was clearly protected by the First Amendment.
If Montana adopts a version of North Carolina’s HB527, student protestors will be able to call me a bigot and other epithets without fearing prosecution under an unconstitutional harassment policy. In other words, they will be able to show their ass with impunity. But other provisions of the bill will help better ensure that they are kept from doing it during my speech – and for the specific purpose of drowning it out and excluding it from the marketplace of ideas. Surely, President Bodnar would support this measure, given his previous moral posturing on the importance of tolerance and inclusion. If he refuses to take a principled stand, he should be over-ruled by the more intellectually honest adults in the Montana legislature.
In conclusion, I would also urge the Montana legislature to call their version of HB527 the “Jeff Cole Campus Free Speech Act.” It would bring honor to the most prominent journalist ever produced by UM’s School of Journalism. It would also serve as a reminder that the profession of journalism was once led by men of principle, honor, and integrity.
Sadly, that is no longer the case. And the same could be said of higher education.