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Campus discourse has been hijacked by a few radical 'cancelers,' says Robby Soave

September 5, 2019

During ASU speech, libertarian columnist and author calls for culture change to foster healthy civil discourse

Frequent incidents over the past few years in which appearances by conservative speakers have been shut down or canceled at college campuses are an alarming threat to free speech, according to libertarian author Robby Soave.

Soave spoke at Arizona State University on Wednesday night in a talk titled, “Panic Attack: Young Radicals in the Age of Trump,” which is also the name of his recently published book. The talk was sponsored jointly by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership and the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix.

“My book was my attempt to grapple with a phenomenon that probably many of you have taken notice of, which is the climate of hostility to certain principles that I believe in very strongly as a libertarian — things like free speech and due process,” said Soave, who is an associate editor at the website Reason.com.

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Soave's new book discusses the state of free speech on college campuses. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

“Things that used to be so vital to the left that have been increasingly under attack.”

Soave said that the most glaring examples have been on college campuses, but it has also happened on social media, in offices and in government.

“It’s the drive to cancel people, to get them fired or run out of society for having said something that offends you, even if it was unintentional, even if it was misinterpreted and it wasn’t meant to trigger you at all,” he said.

“That drive to destroy people for menial sins has migrated from the college campus, where a small number of very radical students has prevented conservative speakers from coming to campus. 

“And it has prevented their own often stridently progressive professors from instructing them because they’ll say something the students object to and then there will be an investigation and the professor learns they have to shut up out of a risk of offending perhaps one person in the classroom.”

The problem is not generational, he said. 

“The problem is a small number, a radical cabal, who have gained some degree of power on campuses in the last two years and have been able to hijack the conversation,” he said.

Soave gave many examples from his book, including:

• In 2017, dozens of students at Middlebury College tried to shut down a speech by Charles Murray, who was invited by a conservative student group and whose books have linked socioeconomic status with race and intelligence. A Middlebury professor was injured in pushing and shoving after the speech.

• Evergreen State College biology Professor Bret Weinstein resigned, and was later awarded a $500,000 settlement, over campus protests that erupted after he challenged an event that asked white students and faculty to leave campus for a day. He was confronted by protesting students and campus police told him they couldn’t guarantee his safety.

• At Harvard, law Professor Ronald Sullivan Jr. was fired as a faculty dean in May after students protested his decision to represent disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

“Harvard has mounted what can only be called all-out war on the principles of free speech at an administrative level,” Soave said.

Not all of the incidents involved progressive students shutting down conservative speakers, he said, but conservative activists are usually outnumbered on campuses. He said some conservative groups have invited provocative speakers because they wanted to incite a shutdown.

“‘Who will trigger the left the most?’ If that is your mentality you are not making a good-faith effort to foster healthy civil discourse between two sides,” he said.

Soave described how the free speech movement started with liberals at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1960s, and how the activists were so dedicated to the idea that they invited an actual Nazi to campus and then dressed up in Nazi regalia as a stunt to publicize the talk.

“No one shut him down. They gleaned insight into how someone could hold those abhorrent views,” he said. “Can you imagine that happening today? And this was less than 20 years after Nazis were an existential threat to life on the planet.”

So what comes next? Not government interference, he said.

“What we need is a cultural change. We need to say, ‘No, we will not demand you lose your job or be run off campus.’ The people who want that to happen, I really do believe, are a minority.”

Often, it only takes one person to speak up, and he gave an example of a student who confronted protestors and asked that a speaker be allowed to continue.

“It robbed the mob of their power,” he said. “Calling out the canceler can work and I’ve seen it work and I encourage us all to be more bold in doing so.”

During the question period after his talk, Soave was asked to elaborate on his title, “.. In the Age of Trump.”

“Many of the phenomena I describe predate (Donald) Trump and have nothing to do with Trump,” he said, noting that all elections inflame tensions on campus. 

“Because of who Trump is and his style, he has set aflame campus life the way no one else would. He is always with us because he is in the 24-hour news cycle. And he’s positioned the media as his rival tribe. And you have to pick one or the other, and there’s no room for anyone to pick Trump some of the time and to disagree with him some of the time, which is what I do,” he said.

“It bifurcates us.”

Doug Ducey

Gov. Doug Ducey at Wednesday's event. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now 

Gov. Doug Ducey introduced Soave, who he called “a beacon of common-sense reporting.”

“He puts in the hard work and does the fundamentals. He asks the right questions. He does the research,” Ducey said.

“He articulates clearly and isn’t afraid to take a stand in the face of pressure.”

Soave praised the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership for promoting difficult conversations between people who disagree.

“This is exactly what a college campus is supposed to be about and has been lost at so many elite institutions.”

Top photo: Pundit, editor, author and columnist Robby Soave speaks about free speech and common sense on college campuses at the Memorial Union on Sept. 4, 2019. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now

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New ASU vice provost opens doors wider

September 5, 2019

Cheryl Hyman wants to leverage strengths of community college partners to ensure maximum access for students

Cheryl Hyman has traveled the pathway to success. Now, she wants to make sure it is available for others. Many, many others. 

Arizona State University’s new vice provost for academic alliances, Hyman came from a family that lived in public housing on the west side of Chicago. She was once a high school dropout, and her road to a better life through education started in the community college system. From there, she went on to receive a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and an MBA. Her message? If I can do it, you can, too. 

Hyman arrived at ASU in January of this year after six years as the chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago, replacing Maria Hesse, who retired from ASU as the 2019 spring semester came to a close. After a period of transition into America’s most innovative university, Hyman has developed a new strategic plan — one that builds on the foundation Hesse helped ASU establish. 

“Maria did a tremendous job building a foundation with community colleges,” Hyman said. “My focus is taking us from a partnership to a platform. We need to have more integrated systems where we are leveraging each other’s strengths and offerings. So now, our community college partners become another platform for us to help figure out how to get people from where they are to where they want to be.”

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Providing service for universal learning is central to the mission, according to Hyman. And inevitably, that means a higher volume of students.  

“Everybody in higher ed will be forced to deal with not just servicing students, but how to re-service, and re-service,” Hyman said. “People are not staying 30 years in jobs anymore. They are constantly transitioning in and out of education for various reasons, whether it be life, reschooling or retooling. And as they do that, we have to reposition to respond and change very rapidly.

“We need to use our alliances to help position ASU as the premier platform for universal learning.” 

Hyman says that will require a focus in three areas: expansion, integration and opportunity identification. 

From Hyman’s perspective, expansion is not about “growth just for the sake of growing ASU.” It’s about expanding opportunity for the large percentage of the population that is not pursuing a postsecondary education. And that means helping people find their way. 

“The people who aren’t going to college, I don’t believe it’s because they don’t want to. I don’t believe it’s because they don’t see everything that’s happening in the world,” she said. “But I do believe it’s because no one is helping them understand what it means to them and then helping guide them through that process.” 

So, when Hyman talks about expansion, she means helping people navigate their way through the system and helping them understand how to obtain the credentials that will translate into something tangible. With the volume of people who will need to behave as universal learners, the days of a one-on-one relationship with an adviser are over. ASU’s transfer tools offer students a way to do it themselves. 

“ASU has a very robust transfer tool,” Hyman said. “It has been tried and tested with many of our community college partners and allows students to self-navigate. It enables them to create a pathway based on what’s offered at their community college, wherever it might be, and what’s offered at ASU. Students can go there and view their course equivalencies and figure out how to build a very robust associate degree that prepares them for the discipline they want at ASU. If they follow that pathway, they have guaranteed program admission into ASU, in their discipline of choice, without loss of time or credit.”

The tool functions independent of a traditional personal adviser — with a 1,000-to-1 adviser-to-student ratio in Arizona, the need for digital tools is critical. 

“Right now, we have more than 600,000 course equivalencies with almost any public institution,” Hyman said. “In my opinion, all those institutions should have access to this tool, and so should their students. So it’s not a tool just for ASU. How do you create it so other institutions, no matter where they are, can have access? How do you get more students to use these tools so they don’t have loss of time or credit?” 

That’s where Hyman’s focus on integration comes in.

“The universal learner is going to be weaving in and out of education for a lifetime,” Hyman said. “So, we want tools that work for anyone in any state that help them figure out how to transfer in and out, back and forth, that take them from where they are to where they want to be.” 

The key is awareness — knowing what options exist. 

“I believe that most people act on the limited information they have,” Hyman said. “If you don’t have access to a wide network of social capital, many people helping you navigate and make choices, a lot of times you’re stopped at just not knowing what to do.”  

Hyman sees ASU as an innovator and a leader that can create models to be replicated by others in higher education. 

Hence, her third focus — identifying opportunities. That, she says, is a team sport. 

“The question for me is, how do I help everyone else in ASU leverage our alliances to service this population? How can we work with business, industry, state systems to help them service that population?” she said. “Creating a platform means ASU doesn’t have to do everything by itself. We can serve as a conduit for helping people get from where they are to where they want to be by connecting them to what they need through our alliance partners, not just transfer institutions.”  

From Hyman’s perspective, addressing the challenge of disruption in the work environment and the need for more college-educated talent transcends her role at the university. 

“Everything I do, not just here but in my past work, it’s not just for the institution itself; it’s aimed at how you solve the larger crisis,” she said. “Everything we're doing nationally, everything we’re doing locally — I’m doing it in a mindset of building a model for others.

“ASU can’t be the only institution for universal learning, but it certainly can be the designer of it.” 

Top photo: Cheryl Hyman, vice provost for academic alliances, leads academic partnerships between ASU and community colleges, both locally and nationally, ensuring that students who wish to pursue an undergraduate degree have the resources and a pathway to successfully transition to ASU. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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