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Let the marketplace of ideas work on campus

It is a concept that should be engraved and posted on the wall of every university chancellor and president, every high school and grade school principal:

“Our goal is not to make ideas safe for students but to make students safe for ideas.”

The late Chancellor of the University of California-Berkeley Clark Kerr may have said it first in 1961. When confronted over allowing an avowed Communist to speak on campus, he replied, "The University is not engaged in making ideas safe for students. It is engaged in making students safe for ideas. Thus it permits the freest expression of views before students, trusting to their good sense in passing judgment on these views. Only in this way can it best serve American democracy."

It is a living and viable concept.

UNR President Milton Glick — confronted with objections over allowing Jim Gilchrist, founder of The Minuteman Project, to speak on campus this Thursday — said he might not like what Gilchrist has to say, but "a university should be a place for the open exchange of ideas and a bastion of free speech. … Our goal isn’t to make ideas safe for students but to make students safe for ideas."

Gilchrist is one of two panelists at a forum scheduled for Thursday and sponsored by the Associated Students of the University of Nevada’s Flipside Productions. The other is Miguel Acosta, part of an immigrants right group in New Mexico. No one we know of is protesting his presence.

The forum is described by its organizers as purely educational and intended to create a dialogue. But many prefer a monologue.

Emma Sepulveda, director of the Latino Research Center at UNR, was quoted by the Reno Gazette-Journal as saying, “There are many other organizations around the country that are anti-immigration that are peaceful and could provide an intelligent debate. But Jim Gilchrist has been connected with criminal activity and paramilitary groups that advocate violence and contribute to hate speech that has led to the deaths of immigrants around the country. …

“I don’t want to silence somebody just because they have an opposite view. I support free speech but I think hate speech has no place on our campus or any other campus.”

Harvard University agreed. A long-scheduled appearance on campus in October was canceled at the last minute.

Gilchrist entered the public spotlight in 2005, when he and others set up camp in the desert south of Tombstone, Ariz., to draw attention to the problem of uncontrolled illegal immigration from Mexico. They never fired a shot nor carried out any citizen arrests.

The ACLU of Nevada has come to the defense of allowing Gilchrist to speak.

"We oppose any effort to silence any speaker invited by any university-affiliated organization, or any pressure on those organizations to cancel their invitation," writes Rebecca Gasca of the ACLU.

It is time to let the marketplace of ideas work.


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