Conservative student leaders invited Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at Bucknell University, drawing sharp criticism from a professor in the Department of Economics. Although Yiannopoulos’ lecture proceeded without incident, the faculty member sent a strongly worded mass email to his colleagues in which he condemned the students who had invited Yiannopoulos to campus. The students feared the email might be interpreted as an encouragement of violence against them, but the administration declined to discipline the professor.
Marcellus Andrews is a professor of economics at Bucknell University. After a student group invited Milo Yiannopoulos to speak on campus, Andrews sent an email to the faculty in which he called for a “steep and lasting price” to be imposed upon the “racists and fascists” who had invited him.
Milo Yiannopoulos is a controversial figure and a leader within the alt-right movement. His speaking engagements have faced protests on college campuses, most notably at the University of California, Berkeley.
Tom Ciccotta (Bucknell Class of 2017) was president of the Conservatives Club at the university. He was one of the students who invited Yiannopoulos to Bucknell and was the subject of criticism by Professor Marcellus Andrews.
Student leaders at Bucknell, including the president of the College Republicans, the president of the Conservatives Club, and the president of Young Americans for Liberty, invited Milo Yiannopoulos to speak on the Pennsylvania campus on February 25, 2016. The students behind the invitation released a joint statement saying, “We believe that all speech should be permitted, with the exception of direct incitements of violence. The best way to defeat ideas is not to censor them, but to challenge and defeat them. If you believe someone is wrong, the best way to beat them is to shine a spotlight on their ideas and to challenge them, not try to hide them or prevent them from being heard.” The statement continued, “To be clear, we certainly do not agree with everything that comes out of Milo’s mouth, but isn’t that kind of the point? The most efficient way to defeat fringe and radical opinions, and to foster intellectual growth is to challenge ideas rationally, maturely, and with respect.” Additionally, they said, “The vast majority of Milo’s views are not extreme and are held by many Americans, but perhaps he gets that reputation from his style and schtick. Milo is the only conservative or libertarian speaker in recent Bucknell history who filled an auditorium with college students, and for that reason he was the perfect choice.”
Students opposed to Yiannopoulos’ presence on campus attempted to organize a peaceful gathering outside the event. But Tooba Ali, the organizer of this “safe space,” cancelled the peaceful gathering due to safety concerns. “I was getting harassed from a couple individuals who I didn’t know. And for fear of other Bucknellians’ safety I cancelled the event,” she told The Bucknellian. The gathering she attempted to organize “wasn’t a protest or anything, we wanted to go to the talk,” she continued. Referring to the statement by conservative student organizers of the main event, she said, “Somehow the people who told us ‘you should hear both perspectives’ were belittling us and preventing us from even going together as a group.”
Prior to the speech, Bridget Newell, associate provost for diversity, advised students by email that protesters who disrupted the event would be “asked to leave,” The Bucknellian reports. She also suggested that students opposed to Yiannopoulos’ visit express themselves in a designated area or skip his lecture altogether. No protesters were reported outside the event.
On January 16, 2017, Economics Professor Marcellus Andrews sent an email to Bucknell’s faculty, calling for a “steep and lasting price” to be imposed upon the students who had invited Yiannopoulos to campus, reports The Tab. Andrews wrote, “The fascist should be allowed to speak —even on Bucknell’s dime — but the targets of his abuse need to be able to impose a steep and lasting price on the racists and fascists that invited him — since ‘free speech’ is the demand that government refrain from sanctioning speech, not a general principle that vicious speech is without a social price in general. But that fragility is also reflected in the demand for an administration to make things better when safety is not something an administration can deliver. If the outcasts at Bucknell, like the black folks I am born to, remind themselves that though they are not now and can never be truly welcomed by those who insist on their superiority at our expense, or by any elite college or university right now, we can defeat these silly though perhaps dangerous people if we remain enlightened and, well, use Bucknell as a training site to develop and practice intellectual and social (and in my day physical) combat skills that will serve us well in the wider American scene.” Andrews also recounted violent and racially motivated clashes he had participated in as a graduate student at Yale University. He recalls that “groups of young conservative white men would go around shouting and trying to humiliate black students, among others. One of these gangs even urinated on a few of us — drunk fascists tend to do that sort of thing — with most unfortunate consequences for themselves as the group of dark men ‘graced’ by their pee were, well, extremely skilled at combat and used our skills to rearrange a few faces, snap a few bones and thereby change the behavior of some folks.”
The auditorium where Yiannopoulos spoke was filled with students, resulting in some others being turned away at the door, according to The Bucknellian. Tom Ciccotta, president of the College Republicans, introduced Yiannopoulos by saying that each and every interruption of the guest’s remarks would lead to a $5 contribution to Donald Trump’s campaign for president of the United States.
In his remarks, Yiannopoulos discussed the importance of free speech, noting the important role that offensive speech plays in society. Additionally, he criticized liberal arts institutions for “infantilizing” students and suppressing alternative perspectives. The question and answer portion of the event lasted an hour.
In February of 2017, the Bucknell Conservatives Club invited Christina Hoff Sommers to speak on campus. Sommers, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is a conservative commentator who critiques the contemporary feminist movement. Ciccotta introduced Sommers and responded to Professor Andrews’ email during his remarks. He said, “As conservative and libertarian students, we believe that Professor Andrews deserves the intellectual space and academic freedom to say and write what he pleases. But we believe instructing students to ‘impose a steep and lasting price’ on students for organizing a guest lecture event isn’t protected by the same academic freedom that we fight for. Although I don’t believe this professor was instructing students to use violence as a tactic against me or my conservative and libertarian peers, his email could have easily been interpreted in such a way,” reports The Tab.
While introducing Sommers, Ciccotta also criticized the university’s response to Andrews’ email. He said, “In a meeting held with the administration, an administrator refused to call Professor Andrews’ conduct inappropriate, choosing instead to say that the administration would have preferred that he had used different language. The administration accepted Professor Andrews’ cheap explanation that by ‘impose a steep and lasting price’ he merely meant that marginalized students were to engage me in calm and peaceful discussion.”
Dean of Students Amy Badal provided a statement to The Tab regarding Andrews’ email, saying his conduct had been “mischaracterized on social media.” Badal also told The Tab that Andrews and Ciccotta concur that Andrews’ email was not an incitement to violence. Badal said that Bucknell “values and encourages the free exchange of diverse ideas and perspectives.”
University administration declined to reprimand Professor Andrews for his controversial email
Although conservative students feared that Professor Andrews’ email could be interpreted as an incitement to violence, the university did not reprimand him.
Yiannopoulos spoke to a packed audience without serious interruption
Student organizers abandoned a plan to create a safe space at Yiannopoulos’ lecture after being harassed by students who supported his appearance at Bucknell. Despite the administration’s statement supporting the right of students to protest in a designated location, no protest occurred outside or inside the auditorium where Yiannopoulos spoke.
Prepared by Will Haskell ‘18
August 22, 2017