In recent weeks, political repression has reared its head, of all places, on our college campuses. One of our most important and treasured freedoms, the First Amendment right to free speech, has been repeatedly violated in the very institutions we should count on to preserve it. Mob rule, hooliganism and intimidation have silenced distinguished scholars and public officials who have been prevented from publicly stating their views on vital issues. This conduct is all the more dangerous because the college and university officials involved have not taken a strong and unanimous stand against it.
Since U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick returned from Latin America last month, groups organized to protest Reagan administration policies in Central America and South Africa have disrupted her speeches at the University of California in Berkeley and the University of Minnesota. Most recently, she chose to withdraw as commencement speaker at Smith College after Smith President Jill Conway stated she could not guarantee order.
Whether or not one agrees with Kirkpatrick's views, she must be allowed to express them. Is this a free speech issue? An editorialist in the Smith College paper said no. I disagree. When campus protesters criticize repression in El Salvador and South Africa, I am prompted to tell them, "Look what you are doing here!"
These protesters are correctly outraged and understandably frustrated over human rights violations in El Salvador and South Africa. But they have leaped to the bizarre conclusion that they must be rude and disruptive in an effort to force change in administration policies. Many may even respect Kirkpatrick as a scholar, but they rationalize that public officials shouldn't adopt these positions if they want to be free of "hassle." These excuses for intimidation are as flawed today as they were in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and here in the 1960s. Such behavior also is in sharp contrast with that of the citizenry of Weston, Vt., who politely listened to Salvadoran Ambassador Ernesto Rivas-Gallont after he asked to be heard at their town forum, even though they strongly disagreed with his views.
After his visit to Central America, Pope John Paul II reminded us that respect for the individual must lie at the heart of our thoughts and deeds. This admonition must not be cast aside now, for it is only there that the conflicts between politics and morality can be resolved.
We should all remember the time when metal folding chairs were hurled at another distinguished scholar (and later U.S. senator), S. I. Hayakawa, who was thereby prevented from speaking at the University of Colorado in 1969. Today, we often hear the question: did we learn nothing from Vietnam? Campus protesters, no less than administration officials and members of Congress, should study the lessons of our recent history in order to avoid its mistakes.