Republican candidates say student protests threaten free speech

Ben Carson calls them 'infantile'

Several Republican presidential candidates criticized student protests against racism at Yale University and the University of Missouri (Mizzou) as tolerance gone too far, while Democratic candidates sought to align themselves with the movement.

Yale and Mizzou are the epicenter of a budding student movement pushing for racial equality on campus. Protests at Mizzou were sparked by frustration with the administration's response to several race-related incidents on campus and led to the resignation of the system's president and Mizzou's chancellor last week.

In another incident related to free speech at Mizzou, Melissa Click, an assistant professor of mass media, was filmed calling for "muscle" to eject a student photo journalist attempting to record a protest site on campus. She has since apologized and resigned her courtesy appointment at the school.

At Yale, protestors say long-standing issues about race were brought to the forefront when two faculty members suggested the campus community be more open to "obnoxious" or "inappropriate" Halloween costumes for the sake of open discourse and free expression. Some student groups have called for the professors to resign as masters of one of Yale's residence halls.

They walk the line: Administrators balance tolerance and the First Amendment

Candidates push back

Republican candidates have largely been critical of the protests.

Ben Carson, speaking on Fox News last Wednesday, said the protests at Yale—his alma mater—were part of a "very dangerous trend" of suppressing unpopular opinions. "To say that I have the right to violate your civil rights because you're offending me is un-American. It is unconstitutional," he argued.

Carson called on campus administrators to have the "moral courage" to stand up to protestors, who he said were being "infantile." Without action, "we will move much further toward anarchy than anybody can imagine, and much more quickly," Carson warned.

In an interview Thursday on Fox Business, Donald Trump said the Mizzou administrators who resigned "are weak, ineffective people," adding that if he were in charge things would have been different. "Believe me—there would have been no resignation," he said.

Supporting students

Responding to a question on the protest in New Hampshire, Jeb Bush said there "ought to be a climate where's there's tolerance and free speech" on campus and that journalists should have access to protest sites. But he added that people need to be "sensitive to overt examples of racism."

Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton both used social media to voice their support for the campus protests.

Sanders tweeted, "I'm listening to the #BlackOnCampus conversation. It's time to address structural racism on college campuses."

Clinton made her support known by retweeting a message from a staffer that read, "Racism has no place anywhere, let alone an institution of learning. Standing w/ the students at Mizzou in my home state calling for change" ("Quick Takes," Inside Higher Ed, 10/13; Gass, Politico, 11/12; Smith, ABC News, 11/13).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

Next in Today's Briefing

Administrators balance safety, learning amid string of threats

Next Briefing

  • Manage Your Events
  • Saved webpages and searches
  • Manage your subscriptions
  • Update personal information
  • Invite a colleague