The Speaker Ban: Students should see new plaque as a reminder

Wearing dark suits and ties, members of the University and UNC system’s brass did Wednesday what their predecessors 50 years ago did everything in their power to prevent. At the stone wall bordering Franklin Street and McCorkle Place, these administrators gathered where more than 1,000 students did in 1966 to listen to a Communist Party member speak.

The plaque laid to recognize that fight for free speech could not have come at a better time for today’s students. As the past few years have shown, students needed this kind of reminder.

Almost a half century ago, it was the administration, the state and its law forbidding speakers with communist ties that quelled the free flow of ideas on campus. Only after waging a five-year war — and a lawsuit by campus leaders — was this Speaker Ban Law struck down as overly vague.

More recently, the students have been the ones in the way. In April of 2009, student protestors got so out of hand that a speech by former U.S. Congressman Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., was cut short, drawing national attention to UNC for all the wrong reasons. Upon Tancredo’s return, students showed more civility, letting his words do the discrediting.

This year, the College Republicans accused Student Congress of taking a more preventative tack to suppress speech, offering the group an impossible $15,000 loan to fund a visit by conservative pundit Ann Coulter. While the choice of Coulter was debatable, the loan was unquestionably excessive and derailed the event.

If college is to be a time of intellectual growth, students need to be particularly receptive to the ideas they disagree with. They can add to the discussion by bringing their own speakers — like students did in 1966 — or by protesting in the right way and for the right reasons.

They can look to that plaque as an example.

Thanks for reading.

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