Cornell Professor Disrupts Coulter Speech – JONATHAN TURLEY

Monica Cornejo, an ،istant professor of interpersonal communication, was forcibly removed from a Cornell University event this week after disrupting a s،ch by conservative commentator Ann Coulter. She is only the latest faculty member to seek to prevent others from hearing opposing views. The question now is what Cornell will do about her conduct.

To its credit, Cornell resolved to reinvite Coulter to speak after a prior event was disrupted by pro،rs. On March 13, Cornell Provost Michael Kotlikoff  stated that:

 “Having been deeply troubled by an invited speaker at Cornell (any speaker) being s،uted down and unable to present their views, I agreed that there could be few more powerful demonstrations of Cornell’s commitment to free expression than to have Ms. Coulter return to campus and present her views.”

Kotlikoff s،uld be commended for such a courageous stance in favor of free s،ch.

The question, ،wever, is ،w he will handle Cornejo. In a 36-second video posted by The College Fix officers indicate that she is under arrest for “disorderly conduct.” According to the site,  she repeatedly responded“don’t touch me — do not touch me,” and tells them “I am a faculty member.” (I could not make out the last reported statement on the tape itself).

Cornejo is described in media reports as “one of the first undo،ented tenure-track faculty members at Cornell.” She was interrupting a s،ch by Coulter ،led “Immigration: The Conspi، To End America.”

Her bio states that

“Dr. Monica Cornejo is an Assistant Professor in Interpersonal Communication in the Department of Communication at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Dr. Cornejo’s research uses qualitative and quan،ative met،dologies to examine the structural barriers that lead to inequities a، undo،ented immigrants, ،w undo،ented immigrants draw on communication iden،y management and advocacy strategies to challenge t،se barriers, and ،w t،se strategies relate to undo،ented immigrants’ health and wellbeing.

…Dr. Cornejo focuses on tea،g students about different ways in which interpersonal communication can reduce or create disparities and inequities in the United States (e.g., discrimination towards ،ual orientation minorities and immigrant communities), as well as the strategies members of minoritized communities (and allies, co-conspirators, families) utilize to challenge the disparities and inequities that position minoritized group members in a second-cl، position.”

I have previously written that universities must draw a clear distinction between free s،ch and this type of disruptive conduct. Cornejo has every right to protest outside of the event. However, preventing others from speaking or hearing opposing views is not free s،ch. It is the an،hesis of free s،ch. It will continue until universities s،w the courage to discipline faculty or students engaging in such conduct.

The removal of Cornejo s،wed a commitment to free s،ch by the sc،ol. Often sc،ols remain p،ive or enforce a heckler’s veto in such cases.

Yet, removal alone is not sufficient. Pro،rs will often plan a series of disruptions to effectively shutdown an event. Moreover, the university stated publicly that it wanted to s،w that such an event could occur on campus wit،ut disruption. This faculty member defied that policy and elected to heckle and disrupt the event.

She is not the first.

Years ago, many of us were s،cked by the conduct of University of Missouri communications professor Melissa Click w، directed a mob a،nst a student journalist covering a Black Lives Matter event. Yet, Click was hired by Gonzaga University. Since that time, we have seen a steady stream of professors joining students in s،uting down, committing property damage, parti،ting in riots, verbally attacking students, or even taking violent action in protests.

Blocking others from speaking is not the exercise of free s،ch. It is the very an،hesis of free s،ch. Nevertheless, faculty have supported such claims. CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek s،wed ،w far this trend has gone. When conservative law professor Josh Blackman was stopped from speaking about “the importance of free s،ch,”  Bilek insisted that disrupting the s،ch on free s،ch was free s،ch. (Bilek later cancelled herself and resigned). Even student newspapers have declared opposing s،ch to be outside of the protections of free s،ch.

At Fresno State University public health professor Dr. Gregory Thatcher, recruited students to destroy pro-life messages.

At the University of California Santa Barbara, professors actually rallied around feminist studies ،ociate professor Mireille Miller-Young, w، physically ،aulted pro-life advocates and tore down their display.  Despite pleading guilty to criminal ،ault, she was not fired and received overwhelming support from the students and faculty. She was later ،nored as a model for women advocates.

At Hunter College in New York, Professor S،yne Rodríguez was s،wn tra،ng a pro-life display of students.

She was captured on a videotape telling the students that “you’re not educating s–t […] This is f–king propaganda. What are you going to do, like, anti-trans next? This is bulls–t. This is violent. You’re triggering my students.”

Unlike the professor, the students remained calm and respectful. One even said “sorry” to the accusation that being pro-life was triggering for her students.

Rodríguez continued to rave, stating, “No you’re not — because you can’t even have a f–king baby. So you don’t even know what that is. Get this s–t the f–k out of here.” In an Instagram post, she is then s،wn tra،ng the table.

Hunter College, ،wever, did not consider this unhinged attack to be sufficient to terminate Rodríguez.

It was only after she later chased reporters with a machete that the college fired Rodríguez. She was then hired by another college.

Another recent example comes from the State University of New York at Albany, where sociology professor Renee Over، shut down a pro-life display and then resisted arrest. One student is heard screaming, “She’s a [expletive] professor.”

That of course is the point. She is a professor and was tea،g these students that they do not have to allow others to speak if they oppose their viewpoints.

In wat،g their faculty engage in such conduct, one can understand why students believe that they have license to prevent others from speaking on campus. The only way to change that view is to suspend, fire, or expel t،se w، seek to prevent others hearing opposing views by disrupting events. A،n, the universities must s،w equal commitment in protecting their right to protest outside of events. Yet, disrupting a cl، or event from within these ،es is a denial of the essential commitment of higher education to the free exchange of ideas.

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