Cal State LA is known for making all kinds of college rankings. The university finds itself as a contender on lists like TIME’s best colleges, U.S. News and World Report’s top public schools in the West and best engineering programs. But the school also found itself on a list on Wednesday that it’s not so proud of: worst colleges for free speech.
The new list, which is compiled by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), highlights universities where “the most egregious sorts of incidents” of hindering free speech have occurred, said Adam Steinbaugh, FIRE’s senior program officer and investigative reporter, in a phone interview on Wednesday.
He said Cal State LA made the list because of an incident last February in which the school’s administration canceled an event featuring Ben Shapiro, a conservative author and political commentator. The student group Young Americans for Freedom had invited him to speak at an event titled “When Diversity Becomes A Problem,” but university president William Covino told the group’s chairman in an email obtained by Inside Higher Ed that the event would be rescheduled to a date when “we can arrange for him to appear as part of a group of speakers with differing viewpoints on diversity.”
Shapiro said he would show up anyway, at which point the university reversed its decision.
A university spokesman said in an emailed statement on Wednesday, “At the invitation of a student organization, Ben Shapiro spoke to a large audience on the campus in February 2016. Mr. Shapiro successfully exercised his free speech rights, as did protestors who expressed their views outside of the auditorium. As a public university, California State University, Los Angeles, is deeply committed to freedom of speech.”
Steinbaugh agreed that many of the protesters who showed up were “exercising more speech, which is the appropriate response to offensive speech.” But he added, “administrators should know you can’t cancel someone’s speech because you don’t like their content.”
Steinbaugh said this type of issue comes up on both the liberal and conservative sides of the political spectrum, and the goal of publishing the list is to draw attention to that.
“It’s not something that just happens in the abstract,” he said. “There are actual incidents where speech is threatened.”
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