Column: UM’s intolerant environment

Greg McNeilly

The day after last November’s election, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel took to campus to address students, express his shock at Donald Trump’s win and comfort them with the reminder that the university was a safe space where they were surrounded by like-minded liberals.

The bizarre, public, partisan action by a university leader drawing a massive salary at taxpayer expense led to a national outcry, and prompted the Mackinac Center for Public Policy to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain all of Schlissel’s email records over the previous months that referenced Trump.

The emails revealed a government-run university administrator who is hostile and dismissive of conservative students on campus — a man willing to challenge their intellect one moment and to impugn their character the next. In one particularly revealing exchange, he admits to tailoring a speech to incoming freshmen in a way that will be interpreted as “anti-Trump” because he doesn’t want to “waste an important opportunity” to influence the students’ votes. “I would feel awful if Trump won the election,” he whined.

In other emails, Schlissel is consoling tearful board members besieged by grief due to the election’s outcome. He is quick to quip that it’s “ironic” that his actions have made Trump supporters feel marginalized on campus.

Regardless of one’s political worldview, the picture painted by Schlissel’s emails is not that of a compassionate leader. His partisan lead is being followed by liberal students on campus.

Last week, conservative economist Charles Murray made an appearance on campus at the invitation of a student group. His presentation was met with disruptive demonstrations, protesters storming the stage and destruction of other students’ property. The campus’ liberal majority attempted to invoke the “hecklers’ veto,” a move to silence opposition through bullying and intimidation.

Tolerance is a simple concept a hateful left seems unable to practice regardless of the volume with which they preach it. Simply put, bigotry is “intolerance toward those who hold different opinions.”

Of course, Ann Arbor isn’t the only place liberal students and administrators are choosing fascism over the First Amendment. This spring, Michigan State University announced it would no longer permit students to use white boards outside their dorm rooms on campus. Students might use them to write things others disagree with or are offended by, the university explained. Sad.

Last September in Kalamazoo, two students were arrested for giving away copies of the Constitution on campus, after school administrators repeatedly refused to grant them a permit to share their views.

Charges were dismissed a week later, and the students sued the institution for violating their constitutional right to free speech.

Even without active obstruction, limitations on speech rights or fear of bullying and intimidation because of one’s political persuasion can chill expressive activity and result in censorship.

To be clear, free speech is not an absolute defense of all speech. But it does cover speech that might make us uncomfortable, that challenges, that provokes us to consider another view and it certainly covers that which is different.

Lawmakers should take a long hard look at Schlissel’s emails and the intolerant, toxic, and dangerous environment he’s fostered on campus. He’s made UM less safe for students and staff alike. If campus liberals aren’t willing to defend the First Amendment, Lansing may have to do it for them.

Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.