Saunders

Let UNC be free of censors

Staff WriterApril 16, 2009 

The final score at UNC-Chapel Hill on Tuesday was 1-0.

That wasn't the score of a well-pitched game by the university's baseball team; it's the score of an ideological contest on campus between hate and love.

Sad to say, hate won.

When former Colorado congressman Tom "Terrifically self-important" Tancredo came to town like some bile-filled Johnny Appleseed spreading seeds of intolerance, students ran him out of town.

Lost in the burst of pepper spray cops used to disperse the crowd was Tancredo's message - that illegal immigrants are destroying America.

They are, he was quoted as saying in 2007 and probably would've said Monday, "coming here to kill you, and you, and me, and my grandchildren."

Oy. Vile? Yes, but he has a right to say it, especially on a campus regarded as a free speech haven.

After spending an hour or so on campus and Franklin Street on Wednesday, though, I'm not sure that reputation is still deserved.

Some students refused to talk about it. Others didn't even break stride when I approached with pen in hand.

In their defense, though, I hadn't shaved and some looked as though they feared I was fixing to hit them up for 50 cents.

Jonathan Kropko, a graduate student from Ohio, finally said "it's complicated" when I asked why he and other students were reluctant to talk about Tancredo.

"People should be able to come here and express their views," Kropko said, "but to what extent can we allow hate speech on our campus?"

Ah, youth. They don't realize that hate speech is far more odious when stifled than when expressed openly.

Years ago, Ward Connerly came to UNC-CH as part of his "black folks have got it too good" tour.

"Ward who?" you ask.

That's my point.

Connerly, a black conservative, was allowed to speak his insubstantial mind at the Graham Student Union, collect his speaker's fee and scram. He appeared on campus without incident, though I wanted to create one with a Snickers bar I was nibbling.

UNC-CH survived, and Ward has had as much impact on world affairs as a pimple on the butt of a water buffalo in Indonesia. Tancredo's impact will be equally minimal, if he isn't martyred first.

The protesters must not have known that UNC-CH nearly lost its accreditation in the 1960s because the legislature barred Communists from speaking on campus.

Universities have a right, nay, an obligation, to permit speakers whose views challenge, discomfit and disturb its students. To do otherwise is to waste their time and their parents' money.

Students, likewise, are entitled to protest. They can't stop people from speaking, though.

UNC-CH has the best student newspaper in the country. It would have been far better to let Tom unTerrific speak and editorial writers at the paper offer articulate counterpoints to his scapegoating message. Or to print the entire text of his vitriol and see if it can survive scrutiny.

I'll bet you it can't.

Here's a question philosophers have pondered for centuries: If a bear poops in the woods and there's no one there to smell it, does it still stink?

At UNC-CH, unfortunately, the only lingering scent after a hatemongering politician tried to drop a stinker was pepper spray.

barry.saunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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