When you have a student-on-student shouting match, the First Amendment may be stretched to the breaking point. When professors join in the fun, as happened recently at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, it may well tip the balance, for better or for worse.
“On August 25, University of Nebraska–Lincoln sophomore Kaitlyn Mullen set up a literature table outside the student union to promote Turning Point USA, a libertarian/conservative campus-based organization,” David Moshman writes on the academe blog maintained by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). “PUSA proclaims its support for free speech but maintains Professor Watchlist, a blacklist of professors who have expressed leftist ideas, in or out of class,” Moshman explained, fairly accurately.
“Before long, there were people demonstrating against TPUSA,” Moshman recounts. “One English professor held a sign asking to be placed on the blacklist.”
“She was close enough to be seen by anyone approaching the table but not close enough to inhibit anyone from looking at the literature or engaging Mullen.”
“Five other protesters were more aggressive, sometimes in concert. At least two engaged in extended hostile chants about TPUSA from close by, sometimes as little as a meter away.[About 3 feet]. One repeatedly denounced Mullen as a neo-fascist (a label she rejects) and, at one point, flipped her off. She was eventually reduced to tears and says the two nearby protesters, although they stopped chanting, mocked her for crying.”
It turns out that one of the students was a grad student who lectured at the University. “But one of the most aggressive protesters was a graduate student in English who also served as a lecturer,” Moshman writes. “UNL may reasonably require its employees to treat its students respectfully, and may especially expect teachers to actively encourage and promote students’ intellectual freedom, at least for students in their classes.” Indeed, they reasonably may.
Moshman is a professor emeritus of Educational Psychology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln