Free speech for guest speakers


Nick Tucker, Staff Reporter

CWU has made a hard stand supporting free speech on-campus. Any speaker with any topic students are interested in is allowed to speak here with no restrictions. This has always been the case, but has become especially important in recent years as violence and controversy have raised questions about free speech.

Around this time last year, violence broke out at UC Berkeley when protesters and police clashed before a planned speech by right-wing Trump supporter and political writer Milo Yiannopoulos. Some were injured and arrests were made, but the most important aspect of this event is that it was the first of many like it.

Left- and right-wing groups came into contact with each other and police multiple times over the course of the following seven months, and since then some have been critical of UC Berkeley’s response. President Trump criticized UC Berkeley on twitter, saying that it “does not allow free speech” and threatening to cut funding to the university (which no current legislation allows him to do).

Much of this criticism has been in response to the cancellation  of controversial speaking events by Berkeley. Notable cancellations include Milo Yiannopoulos and Ben Shapiro, both conservative political commentators. Some have echoed the President’s notion that UC Berkeley was violating the free speech of controversial figures and those who support them. Similar criticism was brought forth against Gonzaga University after denying a request from Shapiro to speak on campus.

However, UC Berkeley and Gonzaga have defended themselves citing security and safety concerns raised by the presence of said figures.

Here at CWU, events are usually far tamer than those seen in California last year. Regardless, CWU President James L. Gaudino made sure to mention CWU’s commitment to both diversity and the free expression of ideas in his State of the University speech on Jan. 15.

“I have publicly defended free speech, argued for providing safety for all, and demanded we treat one another with respect,” Gaudino said. “Inclusivity is found in the ethos of this university, and we have someone (Vice President of Inclusivity and Diversity Dr. Kandee Cleary) who wakes up each morning thinking about how to best manifest that commitment.”

According to Dr. Cleary, what happened at Berkeley and Gonzaga would not happen at CWU. Dr. Cleary says that there hasn’t been a truly controversial speaking event in over a decade, and credits that to CWU’s community and values.

“We’re careful about free speech, there’s nobody Central would say no to,” said Dr. Cleary. “We value the first amendment in institutions of higher education, you get differing opinions and conflicting views.”

Assistant Director of the Diversity and Equity Center Katrina Whitney, stated that exposing students to conflicting opinions in institutions of higher education provides them the opportunity to learn critical analysis.

“We are committed to advocating for students and equity,” Whitney said. “The main focus has been student interest in speakers, the speakers we have here are student initiated and connected to student interest.”

Whitney has been involved in the scheduling of an upcoming speech by activist Shaun King on Feb. 25.

Lt. Marc McPherson works for the CWU Universit Police department, and has planned security for many CWU speaking events.

“Anytime someone has an opposing view there can be some tension, but I don’t have any concerns,” Lt. Marc McPherson of the CWU University Police department said. “We take them all seriously. Any time an event is large enough, they pass it onto us. Great example is the recent debate in October [between Dino Rossi and Kim Schrier]. That was another high-security event.”

Some have criticized universities for charging controversial speakers or their sponsor group an extra fee in order to pay for the extra security the speaker and the content of the speech may require. However, according to Dr. Cleary, CWU doesn’t charge security fees that way.

“The security fee depends on size of audience, not content,” Dr. Cleary said.

An event means that extra manpower is needed from the CWU police however, meaning that there are extra fees for securing a large event.

“We have regular patrols that we can’t assign to an event, so we have to get people who are off-duty,” said Lt. McPherson. “There’s no extra fees or profit off of it, but we do tell [speakers] what the extra cost will be for those officers.”