Quin Hillyer (CAS ’86), contributing editor for the National Review and senior editor for The American Spectator, criticized attacks on free speech at Georgetown and other college campuses and spoke about the true purpose of a university at a discussion in Maguire Hall Tuesday.
The event, titled “Free Speech at Georgetown,” was hosted by the College. Hillyer, who majored in government and theology while at Georgetown and served as an editor for The Hoya and a member of the College Republicans, has published articles in the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, and has appeared on Fox News, CNN and MSNBC.
Hillyer said the ideas that underlie a university, such as free speech and enquiry, are under attack today. He noted that the danger of stifling free speech is present at universities nationwide and is one that must be resisted and defeated.
“Campuses across the nation are suffering attacks from groups of students, faculty, administrators, and outside agitators against the very idea of a university,” Hillyer said. “The assault is against free minds, free speech, free inquiry within the world of ideas, and thus, against the enterprise of higher learning itself.”
Hillyer emphasized that attacks on free speech occur at Georgetown as well. According to Hillyer, events like the protests against Christina Hoff Sommers — a scholar and lecturer who visited Georgetown last spring to speak about feminism — are particularly concerning.” A reaction in which student activists and the main campus paper argued that a respected, mainstream speaker should not even be allowed a forum because her views were hurtful, and in which, even worse, an official university office threatened to force the selective editing of a video of the event,” Hillyer said.
Hillyer said The Hoya’s editorial board’s coverage — which labeled the Hoff Sommer’s talk as harmful — is evidence of the dangers of the current campus climate.” If you don’t even understand the absurdity and Orwellian double speakery of The Hoya’s editorial, complaining of ‘obstructive dialogue’ and ‘harmful conversation,’ it’s tempting to already say you’re too far gone and there’s no hope for you,” Hillyer said. “On the other hand, if you have a mind good enough to be accepted into Georgetown, surely you have the capability of reassessing absurdity.”
Hillyer said trigger warnings should not be used, as students should be exposed to uncomfortable ideas while in college.
“And the very notion of a so-called, trigger warning, against supposedly hurtful speech is almost laughable, because it should be obvious that the university, more than any other place, is where students should come to be challenged, to be confronted with unfamiliar ideas, and even to be made somewhat uncomfortable by notions that may wrinkle, that may bring unwelcome emotions, and may, at first hearing, seem to offend,” Hillyer said.
Hillyer said the point of a college environment is to test ones intellectual beliefs in order to develop students’ characters and minds.
“Somebody daring to voice an unpopular opinion is the one who needs safety, not the one who finds the opinion disturbing,” Hillyer said. “Only by testing our own beliefs, risking exposure of our own biases, and leaving ourselves not just intellectually, but emotionally vulnerable, do we exercise our minds and develop our characters.”
Hillyer also discussed the recent occurrences at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where a politically neutral debate club was unable to find a conservative professor on campus for an event. Instead, they had to seek out a professor from Smith College, to lead the conservative side of the event.
“A university is a special and abiding place because this is where ideas are free to wrestle with each other in honorable combat so that knowledge and reason can grow,” Hillyer said.President of the College Republicans Meghan Pohl (COL ’17) said the event was particularly relevant in light of the recent issues pertaining to free speech in universities lately.
“I found Mr. Hillyer’s argument to be well-founded as it pertained to the shutting down of expression from both the liberal and conservative sides,” Pohl said. “He summed it up best in his final response to a question when he addressed the growing polarization in Congress: the elimination of free speech and dialogue on college campuses today will only further impede bipartisan dialogue and productivity in the future.”
Erica Lizza (SFS ’19) said the event appealed to her interest in free speech, particularly in relation to the dynamic of college campuses.
“Coming to a college campus where everyone has an opinion about everything, which can be wonderful but also a little complicated, I thought it would be interesting to see what someone in the political arena would have to say about how we, as college students, tend to view free speech,” Lizza said.