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A speech-free bubble around Bill Ayers

By Michelle Malkin  •  January 15, 2009 10:25 AM

Well, this is rich.

I told you last month that Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers was invited to speak at Florida State University. The FSU president defended the idea by asserting: “Danger lies not in some speaker’s ideas. Danger lies in teaching students that ideas they don’t agree with are not important.”

Sadly, but predictably, conservative ideas with which liberals on FSU’s campus disagree were not important enough to allow within Bill Ayers’ earshot. At the event earlier this week, students and other protesters who objected to Ayers’ speech were hauled off to a separate “free speech zone” to protect Ayers’ supporters from being subjected to dissent.

FSU student Richard Keeth e-mailed me:

I along with about 50 other students and various people from the Tallahassee community were protesting peacefully outside our Oglesby Union Ballrooms (the location of the event) about 1 hour prior to it starting. Other than a few jeers from the Liberals the protest was very peaceful, no physical conflicts or anything even close to that emerged. However, when the FSU PD arrived, they started corralling us and telling us we weren’t allowed to “protest” there. They moved us far away from the event, in what they designated “free speech zones.” I had heard of them before, but never actually witnessed the police enforce it. Apparently on our public University campus, you can utilize your first amendment rights in “zones.” I had assumed America was a free speech zone, but apparently not.

Liam Julian blasts the administration:

If there’s one thing America’s students (especially disadvantaged ones) do not need, it’s to be inundated in classrooms with noxious notions about revolution, violence and tyranny. Every real education reformer worth his salt, whether conservative or liberal, agrees that the ideology of victimization that Ayers preaches is toxic. Pupils learn best when taught reading, writing and math in disciplined environments by teachers who accept no excuses for failure.

So: The harmful and flawed educational notions of a man who hid from the law after bombing buildings in which served our nation’s police, elected officials and military personnel is, according to FSU, protected speech that public money should fund.

But protestations against Ayers’ ideas apparently do not deserve similar protection. The Democrat reported that two men — one dressed as Osama bin Laden, the other as Timothy McVeigh — attempted to make evident their disapproval of Ayers’ views and actions by distributing, outside the student union, fliers mockingly described as “from the terrorist community.” The men were removed to Landis Green, a designated “free-speech zone” that has the considerable drawback of being nowhere near the ballroom where Ayers spoke and, thus, allowing only the free speech that nobody is free to hear. Oh well: At least neither was tased.

The university’s actions are discordant. They are especially so because FSU President T.K. Wetherell defended the invitation to Ayers in part by writing, “Danger lies not in some speaker’s ideas. Danger lies in teaching students that ideas they don’t agree with are not important.”

Wetherell’s first sentence is baseless: History offers innumerable examples of danger lying in the ignoble ideas that certain speakers advance. Wetherell’s second sentence is unobjectionable but was pointedly violated at the Ayers event when FSU police unaccountably transported protesters to campus Siberia.

Taken together, though, his two sentences are superfluous.

For no matter one’s position on Ayers’ ideas, they are not, as Wetherell suggests, “important.” The sole reason anyone outside Chicago gives a hoot about Ayers is because he planted bombs and, decades later, had fleeting contact with the president-elect. When, in 2007, Columbia University hosted the racist Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, its administration could at least justify the invitation by noting that Ahmadinejad, for all his ranting, was a national leader. Ayers has no such clout.

What, then, about protecting campus free speech at FSU? Whether Ayers should have visited campus is less a matter of free speech than of taste and discernment. To civilized and intelligent people, Ayers’ ideas are (should be) plainly foolish; his actions and associations are (should be) plainly revolting. Certainly Ayers can say what he wishes. But the question for FSU’s administration was whether to assent to pay him thousands of dollars to do so in the university’s environs. The administration’s acquiescence, then, signaled not that Ayers’ ideas merited free-speech protection (which they already have) but that his ideas merited promulgation on FSU’s dime.

And — the irony! — at the same time FSU was furthering the disbursement of shoddy thinking under the guise of protecting free speech, it was actively suppressing free speech by banishing protesters to an Orwellian-sounding “free-speech zone.”

Should Ayers have come to FSU or not? Let the debate continue if it must, but let us not pretend the argument is one about the free exchange of important ideas.

Compare how FSU handled dissenters with how Berkeley handled protesters at lectures by Daniel Pipes and me.

File under “Double standards.”

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Categories: Barack Obama, Bill Ayers