Cornell Professor Disrupts Coulter Speech – JONATHAN TURLEY

Monica Cornejo, an assistant professor of interpersonal communication, was forcibly removed from a Cornell University event this week after disrupting a speech 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 protesters. On March 13, Cornell Provost Michael Kotlikoff  stated that:

 “Having been deeply troubled by an invited speaker at Cornell (any speaker) being shouted 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 should be commended for taking a principled stance in favor of free speech.

The question, however, is how 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 undocumented tenure-track faculty members at Cornell.” She was interrupting a speech by Coulter titled “Immigration: The Conspiracy 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 quantitative methodologies to examine the structural barriers that lead to inequities among undocumented immigrants, how undocumented immigrants draw on communication identity management and advocacy strategies to challenge those barriers, and how those strategies relate to undocumented immigrants’ health and wellbeing.

…Dr. Cornejo focuses on teaching students about different ways in which interpersonal communication can reduce or create disparities and inequities in the United States (e.g., discrimination towards sexual 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-class position.”

I have previously written that universities must draw a clear distinction between free speech 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 speech. It is the antithesis of free speech. It will continue until universities show the courage to discipline faculty or students engaging in such conduct.

The removal of Cornejo showed a commitment to free speech by the school. Often schools remain passive or enforce a heckler’s veto in such cases.

Yet, removal alone is not sufficient. Protesters will often plan a series of disruptions to effectively shutdown an event. Moreover, the university stated publicly that it wanted to show that such an event could occur on campus without 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 shocked by the conduct of University of Missouri communications professor Melissa Click who directed a mob against 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 shouting down, committing property damage, participating in riots, verbally attacking students, or even taking violent action in protests.

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

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 associate professor Mireille Miller-Young, who physically assaulted pro-life advocates and tore down their display.  Despite pleading guilty to criminal assault, she was not fired and received overwhelming support from the students and faculty. She was later honored as a model for women advocates.

At Hunter College in New York, Professor Shellyne Rodríguez was shown trashing 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 shown trashing the table.

Hunter College, however, 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 Overdyke 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 teaching these students that they do not have to allow others to speak if they oppose their viewpoints.

In watching 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 those who seek to prevent others hearing opposing views by disrupting events. Again, the universities must show equal commitment in protecting their right to protest outside of events. Yet, disrupting a class or event from within these spaces is a denial of the essential commitment of higher education to the free exchange of ideas.

Leave comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *.