Last week Hotflash reported on some members of the Young Americans For Liberty (YAL) Chapter at Washington University who were planning to protest communism while commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall on Monday of this week (11/9). According to the Student Life Newspaper, they built a makeshift prison camp display, identified as a “Peaceful Justice Social Reeducation Clinic,” which was inhabited by students representing blood-smeared gulag prisoners. A YAL participant explained:
I think it was mostly about the Berlin Wall, but I think certain policies that are going on today and certain things in the government, and mostly the health care plan, were reasons that we wanted to host the event …
The display was, however, promptly shut down by the ever so circumspect University administration, citing safety concerns among other reasons:
The University said in a statement Tuesday that the students had not mentioned the display when requesting the space and built the display using power tools without permission and without oversight from the facilities office.
No one can dispute the right of the University to enforce its policies retroactively. Nor could one blame the administration if it wanted to distance itself from potential controversy. However, shutting the display down seems heavy-handed and not very well thought out. Universities, after all, are institutions that ought to be devoted to the rough-and-tumble of ideas – and even the perception of censorship ought to be anathema.
Certainly, if one judges from the student comments attached to the newspaper article, shutting down the display only served to cast the YAL students as victims. And, of course, they and their supporters have been quick to capitalize on this idea with even more hyperbole:
John Burns, an area resident who is not a student but who is involved with the Washington University YAL and participated in the display, said he felt the University censored students in a manner similar to Soviet communists.
“I guess the students at Washington University were in a gulag all along, and the administration proved it through their stifling of free speech,” Burns said.