Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro and comedian Adam Carolla testified on Capitol Hill Thursday about their experiences with today’s college students.
The hearing, called by the House Oversight Committee, aimed to “identify the harms of infringing on the right to free speech on college campuses” while seeking “recommendations on how to encourage and protect First Amendment rights” from a panel of experts, including Shapiro and Carolla.
Republican Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) began the hearing with a reel of video footage showing many of the several campus disruptions that have taken place over the past few years, including the violent takeover at Evergreen State College, where President George Bridges was held hostage by student protesters.
“This is where it all ends. You start with safe spaces…and it ends with students holding hostage the president of a university,” Jordan remarked, noting that Bridges was invited to testify but refused. “That’s why we’re having this hearing.”
Shapiro, who has spoken on dozens of colleges campus, began his testimony by noting that he has “encountered anti-free speech measures, administrative cowardice, [and] physical violence” firsthand.
“In order to understand what’s been going on at some of our college campuses, it’s necessary to explore the ideology that provides the impetus for a lot of the protesters who violently obstruct events, pull fire alarms, assault professors, and even other students, and the impetus for administrators who all too often humor these protesters,” he continued, explaining that free-speech is under assault because of a “three-step argument” used by student protesters.
“The first step is that they say that the validity or invalidity of an argument can be judged solely by the ethnic, sexual, racial or cultural identity of the person making the argument,” he stressed. The “second step” is to suggest that “those who claim otherwise are engaging in what they call verbal violence,” while the “final step” is to “conclude that physical violence is sometimes justified in order to stop such verbal violence.”
Shapiro concluded that, as a result, “the value of a view” is no longer “based on the logic or merit of the view, but on the level of victimization in American society experienced by the person espousing the view.”
He went on to note that the popularization of the term “microaggression” has taught students to believe that offensive words “can be the equivalent of physical violence.”
“Words you don’t like deserve to be fought physically,” he went on. “Indeed, protesters all too often engage in physically violent disruption when they believe their identity group is under verbal attack by someone, usually conservative but not always.”
Shapiro concluded his remarks by suggesting that not only does “all of this” destroy “free speech,” but “just as importantly it turns students into snowflakes, craven and pathetic, looking for an excuse so they can earn points in the intersectionality Olympics, and then use those points as a club with which to beat opponents,” saying no views should ever “be banned on the grounds that they offend someone.”
Carolla, meanwhile, discussed his experiences “in the early days” of his career when he toured college campuses and freely spoke about controversial ideas “with nary a word of negativity.”
“We got our paychecks and we went home” he said, but noted that when he attempted a similar tour with Dennis Prager fifteen years later, he was met with college administrators who refused to host them.
“We need the adults to start being the adults. Our plan is to put them in a bubble, keep them away from everything, and somehow they’ll come out stronger when they emerge from the bubble. Well that’s not happening,” he opined, asking, “could the faculty and administrators on these campuses act like faculty and administration?”
During his line of questioning, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) referenced an incident, in which students at Kellogg Community College (Mich.) were arrested for distributing pocket copies of the U.S. Constitution.
“They arrested students for handing out a Constitution. That’s the height of irony,” Massie remarked, while his congressional colleague Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) hinted at defunding Evergreen State College (Wash.) over what he considered a misuse of taxpayer dollars.
Thursday’s hearing was the second in a series devoted to highlighting the First Amendment, with Jordan stating that he hopes to hear from college students during future hearings on the subject.