Letter: The University is obliged to have a neutral process for speakers

by Letter to the Editor

I write in response to the March 1 letter: The University of Minnesota is not obliged to let Shapiro speak.

In short, the answer is the University of Minnesota is not obliged to let Ben Shapiro speak, but it is obliged to honor the process of booking and scheduling a speaker in a speech neutral fashion. If the conservative groups on campus followed the appointed process set by the University, they are entitled to the same protection as any other student group.

The statement that “free speech only entitles a person to express their beliefs. It does not entitle anyone to a platform” is such a noxious one that I believe it deserves a full rebuttal. The University is a public institution, and because of that is obliged to follow the idea of content neutrality. It is in essence, as we are reminded quite frequently by requests to the capital, a partially state funded endeavor. That means that every person in the state of Minnesota has a stake in what goes on around campus. As you might guess, the views of Minnesotans are quite varied. I’m sure there are a number of Minnesotans who might have objections to practically anything that occurs on campus. If the University were to choose to honor those views, it would have to squash practically every note of speech on campus for fear of offending someone, somewhere. Some of those views might even be ones that you hold dear.

In order to avoid the entangling thicket of polling and public opinion however, the University and many other public institutions have chosen a content-neutral approach to speech. There is a process outlined that every group that chooses to host a speaker must follow. If they follow it, they are granted their event. By doing this, the University can separate themselves from the content of the speech. They are acting as the arbiters of the space but do not endorse the speech itself, only the enforcement of the space rules. The moment that the University does not conduct itself in a content-neutral fashion, all bets are off and the previous scenario comes back into play. All speech must be allowed (barring small exceptions), or none of it can be.

Let me reiterate, the privilege of a meeting space is a privilege, but a privilege that must be extended to all groups or no groups. There is not an “only groups I agree with” option.

The same applies to counter-protest. Counter-protest is appropriate and is the privilege of anyone who follows procedure. But it cannot silence the original speech. Imagine that I stood next to you blowing an air horn while you spoke. Every time you spoke. That’s not a counter-protest, that’s forcing others to listen to me, and only me.

This letter has been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Nick Ames is a University of Minnesota graduate student in the Applied Plant Sciences program.