Disinvitations and disinvitation attempts, 2019-2020: 70% of the censorship comes from the Left

December 30, 2020 • 9:45 am

I decided to go back through the last two years of the Disinvitation Database from FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) to see how free speech and its suppression was faring on campus.  Their records of deplatformingsdisinvitations, and censorship attempts began in 1998, and now number 465.

FIRE’s “disinvitations” fall into three categories:

The term “disinvitation incident” is used to describe the controversies on campus that arise throughout the year whenever segments of the campus community demand that an invited speaker not be allowed to speak (as opposed to merely expressing disagreement with, or even protesting, an invited speaker’s views or positions). We make a distinction between an attempt to censor a speaker and the actual end result of a speaker not speaking. “Disinvitation incidents” is the broadest category, including “unsuccessful disinvitation attempts” and “successful disinvitations.”

Not only are unsuccessful disinvitation attempts increasing, but so too are successful disinvitations, which fall into three categories:

  1. Formal disinvitation from the speaking engagement, such as the revocation of Robin Steinberg’s invitation to address Harvard Law School students.

  2. Withdrawal by the speaker in the face of disinvitation demands, as demonstrated by Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers University.

  3. Heckler’s vetoes,” in which students or faculty persistently disrupt or entirely prevent the speakers’ ability to speak, illustrated by the case of Ray Kelly at Brown University. These incidents are labeled as “substantial event disruption.”

For each incident, FIRE gives the year, the school, name of the speaker, the kind of campus event, what the controversy was about, whether it was true “disinvitation” rather than an attempt to censor the speaker (i.e., a petition to disinvite), whether the impetus for the censorship came from the Right of the Left of the speaker (or information wasn’t available [“N/A”), and a link to the details. As I’ve reported before, when the data began in 1998, there was a fairly even distribution of censorship attempts from the Right versus the Left. That has now changed: the bulk of disinvitations come from pressure by the Left. But, as I show below, if you look at all the data, the last two years seem to mirror the overall 22-year fact that the Left exerts the bulk of campus censorship.

For the records from 2019 and 2020, go here, here, and here.

Here are the overall data beginning in 1998 (465 incidents):

Disinvitations from the Left:  283
Disinvitations from the Right: 129
Disinvitations whose origin was politically unidentifiable: 53
Percentage of politically identifiable disinvitations from the Left: 68.7%

The 2019-2020 data follow recent trends:

Disinvitations from the Left:  35
Disinvitations from the Right: 15
Disinvitations whose origin was politically unidentifiable: 10
Percentage of politically identifiable disinvitations from the Left: 70%

I guess, then, that, contrary to my impression, the degree of censorship coming from the Left hasn’t changed much.

As in most recent years, the Left is the end of the spectrum trying to censor speakers, but of course most students and faculty on American campuses are on the Left.

Here are a few instances of people you might know of, mostly involving disinvitations. (Go to the original entry and click on “view” to get the details.)

A few notes on reasons for disinvitations and censorship:

Stanley Fish: “Faculty committee cancelled speech by author Stanley Fish in the wake of student protests demanding that the university English department focus more on racial issues.”

Bob Kerry: “Former Nebraska Democrat Senator and governor Bob Kerry withdrew from commencement speech at University of Nebraska-Lincoln after the Nebraska Republican Party called for his disinvitation over his support of abortion rights.”

Jane Fonda: “Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose calls on Kent State University to disinvite actress Jane Fonda from giving commencement address over her criticism of the military.”

Ivanka Trump: “University president Jay Golden canceled commencement speech by Ivanka Trump in response to calls criticizing her selection as speaker in the wake of President Trump’s comments on protests over the homicide of George Floyd.”

Elizabeth Loftus: Given the nature of the reasons, I suspect that “From the Left” is probably more accurate than N/A: “Cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus disinvited from New York University lecture series by NYU administration after serving as an expert witness for the defense during the Harvey Weinstein trial.”

Lori Lightfoot: This surprised me as she is our liberal black mayor of Chicago, and yet the Left at Northwestern tried to censor her. Reason:  “Petition to disinvite Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot over alleged misconduct of Chicago’s police officers.”

Note that many of these schools are public universities, and thus are legally required to abide by the First Amendment. That means that they cannot cancel speakers or disrupt their talks. The fact that this happens means that the speakers either aren’t trying to sue the schools or can’t be arsed to do so. (Of course some speakers withdrew before speaking.)

Beyond that, the data are embarrassing to all of us who consider ourselves on the Left. We are supposed to be the side in favor of free speech. But if you’ve learned anything from this site, censorship flows largely from The Woke, who constitute a moiety of the Left.

14 thoughts on “Disinvitations and disinvitation attempts, 2019-2020: 70% of the censorship comes from the Left

  1. I don’t know if this is censorship, exactly. I wouldn’t want Ivanka Trump to come to my commencement. You only get one, after all, and I would want someone whose achievements weren’t connected to her grifter father.

    It’s more about who you choose to be associated with. Personally, I’d like to hear what the defense attorney for Weinstein has to say, but I completely understand not wanting her around my campus.

    1. If you sit in the same room listening to somebody make a speech, you are not associating with them.

      It also saddens me that you seem to think that appearing for the defence of a vile person somehow taints a person to the point that you wouldn’t want them on your campus. Everybody deserves a fair trial, even Harvey Weinstein.

    2. Personally, I’d like to hear what the defense attorney for Weinstein has to say …

      FWIW, Elizabeth Loftus isn’t a lawyer; she’s an expert on memory issues (in particular, as they relate to eye-witness testimony).

      To cancel her for participating in Weinstein’s defense is tantamount to cancelling our host for consulting as a DNA expert regarding The Juice’s double-homicide trial.

  2. When I first saw Elizabeth Loftus’s name, I couldn’t comprehend why anyone would disinvite her. But then I read your commentary and it made a species of pseudo-sense. It’s amazing how many people don’t recognize or embrace the notion that EVERYONE is (or should be) entitled to a thorough defense in criminal proceedings.

  3. The search for perfection will never result in finding any, but it’s the perfect excuse to not have to think, or hear ideas you don’t like.

    It’s also the perfect excuse for not having to build a good case for your own beliefs.


  4. The controversy explanation entry on Bob Kerrey is incorrect (his last name is also spelled wrong). Creighton is in Omaha and a private university (and not a part of the University of Nebraska system where the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is the flagship). I don’t know how to tell FIRE that their controversy explanation is incorrect, but the supporting articles clearly state Creighton was the culprit.

    1. According to the Omaha World Herald, “The Nebraska GOP’s executive director, Ryan Hamilton, asked Creighton to rescind its invitation to Kerrey last week because of Kerrey’s support for abortion rights.” According to the World Herald, the head of Creighton did not rescind the invitation to Kerrey. Kerrey decided to withdraw since he did not want politics to be an issue in the graduation ceremony. The table from FIRE does get that part of the info wrong.

    2. Creighton is a Jesuit University that is frequently criticized as being “too liberal” by conservative Catholics. Bob Kerrey was later invited by Creighton’s President to give a Presidential Lecture in partial atonement for the graduation ruckus, which he magnanimously did. One of Bob Kerrey’s sons graduated from Creighton.

  5. Jeez, Ivanka got disinvited? Whatever the reason, it wasn’t ideological. Far as I can tell, she hasn’t any — ideology, that is. She took her unpaid White House position as part of a grift to boost the brand of her sweatshop-manufactured chi-chi fashion line. And it looks like that plan’s backfired.

    Still, the First Daughter has the same First Amendment rights as anyone else. They should’ve let her speak, if anyone cared to hear whatever feckless drivel spilled forth from her yap.

    1. Just a theory here, not a lawyer. This free speech thing, to work, requires someone or many to sue, go to court or otherwise initiate legal stuff. Otherwise getting your free speech does not go far. Besides Trump, who has the money or time to spend in the courts with this. A lot of things about our government and it’s rules work this way. That is why Trump has been so successful breaking the laws and doing whatever the hell he wants. The rest of government says, oh, you can’t do that and Trump just says, stop me. So free speech is just about as good as you can afford.

      1. That’s why organizations like the ACLU are so crucial (and remain worth supporting, the newly acquired wokeness notwithstanding).

  6. All expression of de-platforming and disinviting should be considered free speech but as we see here with the left 👈 it is glaringly obvious that they don’t like it… free speech, in my less lucid moments I start to wonder what the hell we’re talking about.

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