The Breitbart editor and general piece of shit Milo Yiannopoulos has had a rocky campus speaking tour. He’s had cancelled appearances at NYU, University of Miami and others, and he made headlines after singling out a trans student at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee for harassment. But he’ll still be speaking at the University of Washington: UW President Ana Mari Cauce has reiterated her support for his presence while condemning his message.
“[T]he right to free speech and expression is broad and allows for speech that is offensive and that most of us would consider disrespectful, and even sexist or racist,” she writes on her blog. “As a public university committed to the free exchange of ideas and free expression, we are obligated to uphold this right.” That obligation, she goes on to explain, is not just a principled one; public universities are limited in their ability to turn away speakers because doing so would constitute government censorship. Some private universities have turned away Yiannopoulos, but that’s much easier to do than it would be for public ones.
Cauce doesn’t believe that Yiannopoulos contributes to a healthy debate. After all, not all discussions are improved by hearing every side, especially sides that deny the humanity of large swathes of people. As president of a public institution (and, as she states, not directly involved with approving speakers to begin with), her hands are tied, but the question of how schools should balance freedom of expression and the basic safety of their students are pressing ones.
Yiannopoulos and his supporters, of course, will chalk the presence of these questions at all to safe spaces and coddling. But it’s interesting: some public schools have disinvited him–not because of his content–but because the cost of security would be too high. It seems it’s not just students concerned with safety.