The pattern has become familiar: A group of intellectually curious, usually conservative, students invite a speaker to their campus. There is pushback, sometimes from other students, sometimes from alumni, sometimes from the faculty, and sometimes from a combination of the three. The administration then makes the wrongheaded decision to cancel the speech.
Last week, Grand Canyon University released a statement explaining their decision to cancel a Ben Shapiro speech that was scheduled to take place on campus. It wasn’t the first time Shapiro had been uninvited from a campus, and unfortunately, I’m absolutely confident it won’t be the last. I say ‘unfortunately’ not because I happen to agree with Shapiro about many – not all — things, but because it is a tragedy and a moral failing anytime a university deprives their students of a chance to hear from someone whose views may challenge their own. The Grand Canyon brouhaha followed all the usual steps that have come to characterize the shameful practice of de-platforming speakers, but there was an interesting and somewhat unfamiliar twist as well.
GCU distinguished itself from other universities who have uninvited speakers by grounding its decision in religious language. The university explaining that ‘it was not our intent to disappoint or offend anyone… rather, to use our position as a Christian university to bring unity to a community that sits amidst a country that is extremely divided.’
Unlike other universities that have canceled speakers, GCU specifically acknowledged that ‘we believe in many of the things that Ben Shapiro speaks about and stands for, including his support for ideals that grow out of traditional Judeo-Christian values and his belief in a free market economy.’ Given that admission, GCU’s decision is incoherent. The school stated that the ‘decision to cancel Shapiro’s speaking engagement is not a reflection of his ideologies or the values he represents, but rather a desire to focus on opportunities that bring people together.’
Institutions of higher learning should focus on educating people, not on bringing them together. Education is not about ensuring that students are always happy, or that they always agree. It is not about ‘bringing them together’ on every given issue. It is about imparting wisdom and knowledge, and giving students the tools and the ability to keep learning once they have left the ivy tower. Any institution which limits the viewpoints its students are exposed to fails this mission. Further, because GCU — by its own admission — largely agrees with and supports Shapiro’s positions, his speech should have fit in perfectly with their educational goals.
But even if this were not the case — even if GCU, like many other universities around the country, happened not to agree with Shapiro’s views — the idea that censorship is the same as ‘making peace’ is inane. GCU contends that ‘we live in a very divided America.’ That much is true. The rest of the school’s statement is a messy, incoherent rant that uses religion to disguise the sad simple fact that GCU chose censorship in the hopes of mitigating controversy. When reading the school’s repetitive language about bringing people together and creating peace, it seems obvious that GCU is interested in maintaining a happy, ‘safe’ environment, at any cost, even if that cost includes appeasing those who are policing the kinds of thoughts to which their students should be exposed. This strategy is morally repugnant, but it is also practically unsound. Activists on the left are seeking to be the gatekeepers that decide which ideas should be allowed to pass through a semipermeable membrane and reach our students and society at large. The more that institutions appease these activists in the name of ‘bringing people together’ or ‘seeking peace’ the more restrictive these gatekeepers will become. We’ve already seen it happen, and if more institutions follow GCU’s lead, it will only get worse.
Daniella Greenbaum Davis, a Spectator columnist, is a writer living in New York.