After Columbia University College Republicans invited white nationalists Mike Cernovich and Tommy Robinson to speak on campus in the past year, protests from hundreds of outraged students sparked a campus-wide debate on freedom of speech, culminating in the creation of two University Senate resolutions outlining guidelines for freedom of expression and academic speech.
Student protesters, who interrupted Robinson’s anti-immigration speech last October and eventually forced organizers to end it prematurely, were threatened with disciplinary action and banned from future CUCR events. While the investigation into the protesters was eventually dropped, the lack of clarity surrounding rules for freedom of speech led to Senate resolutions that used the First Amendment as a guideline for principles that govern University speech.
The debate over free speech on campus continued throughout the year, and also divided student groups who disagreed over how policies should address disruptive protest.
CUCR’s actions last year signaled a departure from the more moderate conservatism that once defined the club; alumni even expressed concern over the group’s shift to an increasingly far-right ideology. This year, however, the club’s new leadership has implied that the group will likely return to presenting a wider spectrum of conservative views.
Student activist groups including Student-Worker Solidarity, Columbia Divest for Climate Justice, and UndoCU criticized the Columbia University Democrats after CU Dems published an op-ed arguing against the disruptive protest of white supremacist speakers. UndoCU called CU Dems a "total embarrassment,” accusing the group of inadvertently supporting white supremacist representation.
Throughout all the protests, University President and First Amendment scholar Lee Bollinger has remained firm in his stance against limiting free expression or prohibiting speakers from coming to campus, even when their ideologies are offensive or hateful. The senate policy in support of freedom of expression attempts to protects free speech and free expression from potentially offensive speakers but also gives those who disagree an opportunity to respond at town hall meetings.