At work in the Yale Admissions Office today, I spoke with a prospective student about some of my favorite parts of college life. "Every week it seems there's another prominent figure or great mind speaking on campus," I said, recalling one week last year when I had a chance to hear Antonin Scalia and Howard Dean. What makes those events so special and such an integral part of a college education is that students have a chance to ask questions that matter to them, not some talking head conducting a television interview. I still remember seeing John Bolton engage in heated debate with a student who challenged Bolton's views on international law at a forum my first month on campus. So when I saw the video of a University of Florida student manhandled, tasered and arrested by police for asking Senator John Kerry a series of questions about the 2000 election, the footage hit close to home.
I watched in disgust as Andrew Meyer, 21, was dragged by police through the auditorium and tasered repeatedly after he pleaded, "Don't tase me!" while Kerry did nothing to intervene. Every time the taser's shock caused Meyer to shriek, I didn't just hear a defenseless young man screaming in pain, I saw a fellow student becoming the victim of police brutality and unconstitutional censorship. Sure, Meyer's rant was getting a little long-winded, but while his verbal diarrhea may have deserved the ire of the audience, it certainly did not justify the violent arrest that prompted one onlooker to shout, "This is Rodney King all over again." Obviously an overstatement, but the police's use of force was undoubtedly unwarranted.
The media has flocked to this story because of the shocking footage of campus police attacking one of the students they were hired to protect. But what alarms me and the classmates I spoke with on campus today is the crackdown on students' free speech rights. You can argue that the police tried to get Meyer off the mic simply because he was hogging the stage too long, but it's unlikely that they'd have arrested him if he were asking Kerry about the Gators rather than questioning his actions during the election. Watching the police silence Meyer was particularly worrisome after a summer in which the Supreme Court limited students' rights in the Bong Hits 4 Jesus case. As David Horowitz and Co. continue their campaign to restrict free exchange of ideas on campus, I can't help but fear for the future of students' rights to question authority and express dissenting opinions, exercises that are fundamental both to students discovering what values are important to them and to the vitality of our democracy.
When politicians address college students, they constantly return to the same theme: "Be an active member of your community, be politically engaged and speak up for what you believe." John Kerry's lecture at the University of Florida predictably delivered this message. What a shocking disgrace that when Andrew Meyers took Kerry's advice, he ended up getting electrocuted.