Penn State denounces upcoming appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos, but kvetches that they can’t stop him from appearing

October 28, 2021 • 12:30 pm

I’d just as soon never listen to Milo Yiannopoulos again, for although there are some debatable issues he brings up, I know them already, and he’s more of a provocateur than a lecturer. Let me restate that: he’s a nasty piece of work.

But according to the article below from the local newspaper, Centre Daily, he’s scheduled to speak at Penn State on November 3. I sure as hell wouldn’t go, but some students will, as Milo is sponsored by Uncensored America, a student group. Yiannopoulos, who once prided himself on being gay, has now declared that he’s not gay, and, as the article says:

He is now hoping to open a “conversion therapy” center in Florida, which seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or identity. Conversion therapy is banned in 14 states, while dozens of national organizations — such as the American Medical Association — have denounced such practices.

But there’s more:

Yiannopoulos, former editor of far-right media outlet Breitbart News, has been no stranger to controversy. He was permanently banned from Twitter in 2016 after referring to Black comedian/actress Leslie Jones as a man and an ape, while orchestrating an abusive campaign against her. He was also banned from Facebook and Instagram three years later after the platforms labeled him “dangerous” for his promotion of hate speech and/or violence.

He was forced to resign from Breitbart in 2017 over remarks that appeared to condone sexual relationships between old men and boys as young as 13. (The American Conservative Union rescinded his invitation to to speak at CPAC over the controversy.) And the formerly openly gay commentator — who’s also been accused of being sympathetic to white nationalists — married his boyfriend in 2017 before announcing earlier this year that he is no longer gay.

You can’t get much more odious than that, but since he’s already been invited, he should be allowed to speak. Penn State is a state college and must abide by the First Amendment.

What struck me about the article below was not so much Milo’s antics as the University’s repeated declarations that they don’t endorse his views, oppose him with all their might, and, most important, their implication that they would ban Milo if they only could, but they can’t. They almost seem reluctant that the Constitution prevents them from censoring him. What kind of behavior is that for a campus that purports to favor free speech?

Click to read the article:

That’s all I’ll say about Milo except to give the topic of his talk according to the event webpage: “free speech, faith, conversion therapy, hair style, and more. ”

Now here are some statements from Penn State officials from the article, either direct or reported secondhand:

In a written statement, university officials explained they are opposed to the event but cannot stop it due to the First Amendment.

. . .“(Yiannopoulos’) past presentations on the nation’s college campuses have been antithetical to Penn State’s values, and we share the profound dismay others have already expressed in response to his forthcoming appearance here,” read a joint statement Monday night from three university officials in Steve Dunham, vice president and general counsel; Damon Sims, vice president for student affairs; and Marcus Whitehurst, vice provost for educational equity.

The statement continued: “Yet as offensive and hurtful as Yiannopoulos’ comments have been and are likely to be again, and despite our own abhorrence for such statements and the promotional tactics used, Uncensored America has the undeniable Constitutional right to sponsor this presentation on our campus. The university lacks the right to do anything to stop it.”

. . .Despite the backlash, university officials remained adamant they could not prevent Yiannopoulos’ event from happening.

“As a public university, we are fundamentally and unalterably obligated under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment to protect various expressive rights, even for those whose viewpoints offend our basic institutional values,” the university’s joint statement read.

“To do otherwise not only violates the Constitution, but would undermine the basic freedom each of us shares to generally think and express ourselves as we wish. … But let us be clear. At his core, Yiannopoulos is a social provocateur — a personality whose central public purpose is to deliberately create controversy, hurt and disruption. That is something we all should recognize.”

Now only the last two lines emphasize freedom of speech, but I have to say that it’s offered grudgingly, and the whole tenor of the Administration’s statement is “We’d ban this joker if we could, but the Constitution won’t let us.”

The LGBTQIA+ group, a student group, said this:

In a joint statement Tuesday, University Park’s undergraduate student government and two LGBTQ groups “strongly condemned” Yiannopoulos’ appearance, saying it promotes homophobia on campus.

“Bigotry and discrimination have no place at Penn State, and the university must take the necessary steps to combat hate speech and protect the LGBTQIA+ community,” the statement read, before later continuing, “(Yiannopoulos’) presence serves as a threat to students on-campus, and the university should treat it as such.”

Of course they hate Milo, and they should, but I doubt that his presence threatens students. If anything threatens students, it’s themselves, who might riot and engage in damaging property, as they have with Milo’s appearances before. They should urge a boycott or organize counterspeech.

You know what the University of Chicago would say in response to a Milo appearance here?

Either nothing, or, “Anybody who’s invited to speak here will be allowed to speak, for we adhere to freedom of speech.” There would be no preening statements that the University abhors Milo.

And that’s the way it should be. Colleges and universities should not take public stands on political, moral, or ideological issues, for that leads to chilling of speech. This is embodied in the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report, which is adhered to pretty scrupulously —despite a few slipups that I’ve noted.  What Penn State is doing here is telling students how moral the University is compared to Milo, which of course leads those who like what Milo has to say to keep their mouths shut. Their speech is chilled, and more than half of college students report that they self-censor to avoid getting into trouble.

But Milo, despite his repellent personality, does have things to say worth debating. Penn State should have just done what my own University would do.

And by the way, even if you think that Milo’s statements are always unbearably stupid and don’t deserve to be heard, have a look at this paper in the Journal of Controversial Ideas. It defends the stupidest of all ideas—flat Earth theory—as worth hearing, and if that theory is worth hearing, then almost anything is, as the title of the paper below implies (click on the screenshot):

28 thoughts on “Penn State denounces upcoming appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos, but kvetches that they can’t stop him from appearing

  1. Huh. I just wondering what happened to this guy the other day. He’s been under the radar for a while. Apparently the roar of the grease-paint and smell of the crowd were irresistible.

    1. Yeah, I’m guessing clicks and media is his primary way of supporting himself. Not that this invite makes him money, but I’m guessing he’ll accept just about any invite with the thought that it may help him get better paying speaking or writing gigs in the future.

  2. Wait, MiYi is a thing again? How the hell did that happen?

    Who’s his warm-up act in State College, PA — 5 Seconds of Summer?

  3. “I sure as hell wouldn’t go, but some students will, as Milo is sponsored by Uncensored America, a student group.”

    The only reason this group invited him to speak was because of the predictable reaction he would get. This cynical student group is simply working to “own the libs.” I hope their parents are very proud. Meanwhile, those same students and parents will likely vote for any candidate who promises to ban critical race theory, or whatever the latest liberal plot.

    The student group is doing nothing to advance their cause. They are fools.

    1. I certainly disagree strongly with their politics; but I have no interest in silencing them or preventing them from hearing a speaker I don’t agree with.

  4. They are, I believe, advancing the cause of free speech, simply by making Penn State host somebody odious. And they’re showing how Penn State is reluctant to enforce its own principles of free speech when faced with somebody odious.

    1. I can respect that. But couldn’t they pick someone unpopularly controversial who has more interesting or deep things to say? Call up Dave Chapelle. An infinitely better choice of a ‘2021 social bomb thrower’. And probably has some free time on his hands, if the reception of his last special is any indication.

      Picking Milo to show your defense of free speech is like inviting Ray Comfort to challenge the mainstream position on whether ID is religion or not. Yeah, he’s an option. But why not go for a Michael Behe?

      1. There is a woman I sometimes chat with online who has an ingenious variant on the “North Path Flyover” theory about 9/11 involving light pole launching machines and duplicate decoy taxi cabs. Why cycle through the same old faces when there are so many like her who haven’t been heard yet?

        Free speech is limited when it is always the same old faces and there are no fresh ideas.

        1. I would argue that Chapelle brings fresher ideas than Milo. Dave released a controversial 90-min speech tackling disagreements over trans rights in the last 60 days. While Milo is arguing about gay conversion therapy.

          1. I’ve heard Milo speak on a college campus. He’s fine. No different than speakers when I was in college back in the 80s. He’s a conservative, he has a sense of humor and he can’t help it if all these gullible students have been brainwashed by the institutions that want to censor 2nd amendment to further their own agenda. There weren’t even any protesters at his speech at UCSan Diego because it was finals week! These kids have been taught free speech is bad so it’s refreshing to the students who still believe in diversity of thought to have someone like Milo as a speaker on campus.

  5. “They should urge a boycott or organize counterspeech.”

    Bullseye. That’s what adults in a free society do.

    Or, even more simply: Just don’t attend the lecture/talk! (Change the channel; don’t destroy the TV!)

    1. And if they can’t stand to be quiet, a bit of ridicule/comedy would more effectively discourage someone like Milo than protests or outrage. And let’s face it, he is in many ways a laughable character. Laughing about him, not taking him seriously, will defang him and his ilk more effectively than spewing one’s own venom and spittle.

    2. To which the student group will search to find an even more offensive speaker. That’s my objection — they are not fostering debate or serious discussion of ideas, even controversial ones.

      They are baiting.. All they want is attention but not necessarily in the interest of their stated cause. Will they invite a speaker on critical race theory? I doubt it.

      1. I would support an organization that did nothing but “bait”, by which you seem to mean “invite speakers sure to generate controversy.” It’s a great way to demonstrate the importance of free speech, open the Overton window, and prove the lack of any real, measurable harm those speakers cause, despite the whining of the progressive alleged victims.

        Plus, Milo’s hair is objectively fantastic….

        1. The “I’m gonna invite the most hateful speaker I can find to demonstrate the importance of free speech” trope has all the intellectual heft of an after school special.

          It’s been done. The ACLU defended the Nazis so they could march in Skokie. What do they have to advance the discussion? All they are doing is resurrecting the career of a scam artist who makes his money drawing attention to himself as a professional victim or target (of the libs). Milo is just like the Joker — he just wants to see it all burn.

          Now, does the student group Uncensored America actually support the hateful views that Milo will doubtless spew? I don’t think they do. While that may not be necessarily relevant, I find it curious as to whether they would promote a talk on critical race theory? Or, are the “controversial ideas” limited to right wing provocations?

  6. I doubt that it would have been possible, but it would have been better if the university kept it relatively quiet. Let him speak to a small audience over the noise of crickets.

    1. I think his comments saying he could give the Changed movement tips for putting more straight looking photos on their website suggests he is no more serious about the “ex-gay” thing than he is about anything else he says.

      I am beginning to warm to the guy.

  7. [Yiannopoulos] … “was permanently banned from Twitter in 2016 after referring to Black comedian/actress Leslie Jones as a man and an ape…”

    Hey, hey, >I< am a man and an ape! I am a large male African great ape, and proud of it. If this Yiannopoulos character has something against apes, he'd best stay away from mirrors, no?

  8. Again, I am all in favour of views like this getting as wide an exposure as possible. I am not sure that you could say that his latest view is odious, it is, after all, the same as the one being expressed by the eminent Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne.

    I am just a little disappointed that we don’t get more 9/11 truthers talking at prominent US universities, especially the no-planers and North of Citgo flyover theorists. Perhaps Uncensored America could invite Lin Wood to Penn State or another university.

    I wouldn’t be able to attend but I would definitely join the streaming of the event.

  9. But, to be honest, when I read “The Epistemology of No Platforming: Defending the Defense of Stupid Ideas on University Campuses” I felt that the Journal of Controversial Ideas had fallen victim to its first Sokal style hoax.

    If not then I am looking forward to the University of Chicago hosting a conference to finally settle the matter of whether or not Australia exists.

  10. “Colleges and universities should not take public stands on political, moral, or ideological issues, for that leads to chilling of speech.”

    Isn’t defending free speech to take a stand on a political issue, namely that an open, democratic society requires liberty of conscience and the unfettered exchange of ideas? Universities, at least those that defend free speech, are microcosms of an ideal open society in which expression of all views is permitted, even those portraying certain groups as inferior, not deserving of equal rights, etc., etc. Since they’re not democracies, universities aren’t vulnerable to authoritarian take over should such ideas take hold. They can allow speech that in effect bites the hand that feeds it. Actual democracies may not have that luxury, and at some point a society might decide to criminalize certain speech in order to stay reasonably open, as has Germany in outlawing Holocaust denial.

    Resistance to unlimited free speech on campus is perhaps analogous to such restrictions: it wants to forestall the rise of inegalitarian ideologies, which is understandable if you want a society committed to equal rights. Speakers like Milo are obviously not on board about that, so it’s no surprise they are resisted. But letting them speak models the ideal open society, even if that ideal by its very nature can’t be replicated in the real world.

    1. The Univeristy of Chicago considers free speech part of its mission of unrestricted exchange of ideas, so it’s not seen as a political stand. It is on our “fundamental principles” page.

  11. There is someone I came across on the internet who was an open and self identifying white supremacist and racist who argued that black people are intellectually and morally inferior to white people and that white people should not have to live among them.

    Now that is what I call odious.

    On the other hand he could express himself pretty well and was numerate and so could probably acquit himself pretty well presenting this view to an audience. In fact he bemoaned that he wouldn’t get the chance. Any takers to invite him to talk at a university?

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