Tonight will be a defining moment for the status of free speech at the University of Wisconsin.
The past few years have been filled with battles over the right to free speech. The most prominent examples include the abolition of the faculty speech code, the shout-down of Ward Connerly, and the controversy surrounding an anti-reparations ad taken out in The Badger Herald by David Horowitz.
The last is the most prominent — especially so tonight, when Horowitz will speak as a part of the Distinguished Lecture Series.
The controversial nature of Horowitz’ views do not need explaining. It is certain tomorrow’s speech will contain plenty of fodder for protesters. Exacerbating this fact is the likelihood Horowitz will provoke members of the crowd, seeking a reaction that will confirm his postulate that speech on college campuses is anything but free.
If our education is to mean anything, Horowitz’ postulate must be proved wrong. The open exchange of ideas and the willingness to explore beyond our limited understanding is the foundation of intellectual pursuit. A reception similar to that given Connerly (i.e. chasing Horowitz off the stage) will only cause students on this campus to be portrayed not as intellectual seekers of the truth but as children incapable of critical thought, blindly lashing out at anything disagreeable to our sensibilities.
Far better would be an embrace of free speech. Those who disagree with Horowitz should let him have his say and then offer reasons why he is wrong. The strength of the arguments will ultimately determine which view prevails. To that end, these Opinion pages will be printing as many letters to the editor as possible from tomorrow until the end of the semester.
Already we are encouraged by preliminary plans by some campus groups to protest outside and distribute literature — in effect answering speech with more speech. But once those protesters come inside, they should grant that same right to Horowitz. Freedom on this campus depends on it.