by Pat Rooney
After reading about yet another college student protest effectively running off an invited speaker on campus, I was struck by the student’s response that any possible discipline being discussed of said students “would have a chilling effect on free speech and expression on campus.” Notwithstanding the steeped irony, one way free speech is not what the founders had in mind when they wrote the first amendment and it won’t get us very far in the future. Incidents like these (this one was at Georgetown Law School and reported on in the Wall Street Journal) make you wonder if there are any adults at all left on campuses today.
So, I was gratefully amused by a similar event in St. Johns College in Oxford, England. Again, another group of students were occupying the school quad to protest the school’s investment in oil and gas, specifically in BP and Shell Oil. They were requesting a meeting with the school’s management to demand that the school divests of these investments. St. John College’s Financial Administrator, Professor Andrew Parker, responded saying “I am not able to arrange any divestment on short notice, but I can arrange for the gas central heating in college to be switched off with immediate effect. Please let me know if you support this proposal.”
The students declined the offer. One stated that this “is an inappropriate and flippant response,” adding “it’s January and it would be borderline dangerous to switch off the central heating.” Accused of being provocative, Professor Parker replied “you are saying that I am being provocative but I am provoking some clear thinking, I hope.” The professor said further that “it is all too easy to request others to do things that carry no personal cost to yourself. The question is whether you are prepared to make personal sacrifices to achieve the goals of environmental improvement, which I support as a goal.”
Finally, an adult response to, and a teaching moment for, student protestors. Such moments as these can go a long way to provide constructive conversations about the critical issues around freedom of speech, the importance of fossil fuels currently, and most importantly, the personal sacrifices and tradeoffs undoubtedly necessary as the world pursues the evolution of energy alternatives in the years ahead.