Texas Southern University President Austin Lane canceled the speech of a conservative state lawmaker on campus Monday, right after Black Lives Matter activists disrupted it by chanting, "No hate anywhere! You don't get a platform here!"
In a Youtube video, Lane tells a room full of students and activists that although the campus Federalist Society chapter invited State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-TX) the talk was "an unapproved event." Lane told those gathered, "We have a clear process that must be followed. In this case, I've just been made aware that the process has not been followed."
"This event will have to stall out until the student organization goes through the appropriate channels through our vice president of student affairs office," Lane said.
But Charles Blain, a conservative activist who attended the talk, says that Susan Bynam, assistant dean for institutional advancement at TSU, was clearly helping to lead the event and initially took the microphone to let the protestors know they could stay but not be disruptive.
In an op-ed piece, Cain says three uniformed officers escorted him out after the president arrived and that he doesn't believe the administration's claim that the event was scheduled incorrectly. In fact, he says, the administration seemed fully aware of and committed to supporting his talk in the weeks before it was scheduled. "The dean of student affairs asked to arrange a meet-and-greet after the event. The administration even designed the fliers," he said.
Cain believes that Texas Southern gave in to the activists protesting his speech. "What is clear is that the university chose to side with those wanting to silence the free speech of the students who organized this event," he said, "the administration's fabricated excuse of this event being 'unapproved' doesn't match up with the numerous approvals they made along the way."
Texas Southern now says that The Federalist Society is not a sanctioned campus organization. In a statement released Tuesday it said that campus administrators "conducted a check of recognized student organizations" after campus police let them know of a disturbance at the law school where the event was held. "It was determined that The Federalist Society was not a sanctioned university organization and proper scheduling procedures were not followed," said TSU.
In front of students at the event however, Lane said nothing about the society not being a recognized student organization. He said it did not follow the correct process for inviting speakers on campus. Lane insisted several times that the university welcomes free speech but also that "the university has a right to regulate time, place and manner" of speech.
Stanley Kurtz, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, says Lane should be ashamed. "This was capitulation to the mob, pure and simple," he wrote in National Review.
"Even if some minor procedure was omitted when Cain's talk was arranged, the university itself is responsible for that omission, having welcomed Rep. Cain to campus and allowed his talk to begin," wrote Kurtz.
Likewise, free speech advocates at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education say they're concerned about what happened. Staff attorney Tyler Coward said, "President Lane chose poorly, depriving the audience of hearing a scheduled speaker and of the opportunity to express their misgivings — or agreement — with his political views."
Cain says the university should have used the moment to explain to the protestors how to respectfully disagree. Cain himself made an effort, said Blain, by encouraging Bynam to let the Black Lives Matter students keep their signs, even after Bynam told them they were not allowed.
Cain had already been fired up about free speech on college campuses before Texas Southern canceled his speech. He sponsored a bill giving legal protection to college students whose First Amendment rights were violated by administrators. Now, he's asking House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to add campus free speech protection to a list of issues to be studied before the next legislative session.