We on the Star-Telegram Editorial Board don’t often find ourselves in the position of defending a member of the First Family, but on his recent visit to North Texas, Donald Trump Jr., the president’s oldest son, said at least one thing with which we agree.
Speaking to a crowd of about 800 at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium, Trump described in no uncertain terms the current environment on many college campuses around the U.S. They “don’t teach civility or intellectual openness anymore,” he explained, before railing against university administrations for failing to foster independent thought and turning “traditional” values into “hate speech.”
Trump was referring to the disturbing trend at institutions of higher learning to shut down, drown out or altogether drive away speakers who hold viewpoints that are controversial, unpopular and in some cases just different from the prevailing perspectives of students on campus.
Earlier this year, Charles Murray and a professor were physically attacked by an angry mob who had refused to let the political scientist speak at Middlebury College in Vermont.
Police in riot gear were needed to keep protesters at bay at the University of California, Berkeley, in September, when conservative radio talk show host Ben Shapiro was invited to speak.
A discussion about First Amendment rights with a representative from the American Civil Liberties Union was canceled at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, after protesters stormed the stage and refused to allow the event to continue.
These attempts — which are in many cases successful — to prevent open and civil discourse from occurring are increasingly common. Trump is right to express dismay about their frequency and, in some cases, the complicity of university administrations.
Of course, the irony is not lost on us that Trump chose to make his pointed critique of universities at an event sponsored by the University of North Texas.
And Trump acknowledged that UNT is one of “the exceptions” to university’s bent on reining in free speech.
Despite UNT President Neal Smatresk’s lack of enthusiasm for Trump’s appearance and a sizable number of faculty who formally voiced their opposition, the president’s son was still welcomed to come speak.
That may seem like a victory for Trump, but it’s truly a victory for free speech.
Universities fail students if all they are is echo chambers.
Good for UNT for refusing to be one.