Conservative journalist Ben Shapiro’s speech last February at Cal State LA caused an enormous uproar, with protesters trying to shut down the event, screaming him down, even pulling the fire alarm. Now, documents reveal that Shapiro had no support from the school’s faculty ahead of the event — not even from the faculty adviser of the conservative group that sponsored it.
Documents obtained by Heat Street under open records laws show that the faculty advisor, Professor Michael McClendon, not only resigned before the speech—he tried to make it difficult for Young Americans for Freedom to find another adviser.
A week before the speech, entitled “When Diversity Becomes a Problem,” McLendon wrote to the dean of students about “a rumor I want to end” that he was responsible, as the YAF adviser, for bringing Shapiro to campus. “I would like to [resign] quickly and begin repair with my African-American students as soon as possible, meaning tomorrow,” he said.
McLendon also repeatedly pleaded with the Dean of Students to publicize his hand-washing of the imminent Shapiro event.
“Specifically, I want [the Black Student Union] to know that I am not in favor of him speaking here,” McLendon wrote. “I tried to talk [YAF] into more reasonable speakers throughout the fall and have urged him to cancel this event once I found out the nature of the speaker. While I believe every student has a right to form a political group that is not engaged in hate speech, it should not be construed from this commitment that I am sympathetic to any group’s beliefs or activities.”
When McLendon resigned, he heard that the YAF had already approached another political science professor to replace him as adviser. “I think [he] needs to be warned,” McLendon wrote to the Dean of Students.
McLendon declined Heat Street’s request for an interview, and he failed to answer questions we sent by email. But he was not the only one at Cal State LA insisting to students that he was against having Shapiro as a speaker.
President William Covino wrote to one upset student, saying concerns about the event were valid.
“I find Mr. Shapiro’s writings and previous speeches on race and diversity most unwelcome, and would not have chosen to invite him as to speak at our University,” Covino wrote.
Similarly, two professors—Robert Weide and Melina Abdullah—took to social media, decrying the event.
Reading through more than 1,000 pages of emails surrounding Shapiro’s speech, it’s remarkable how little the professors and administrators at Cal State LA mention free speech, and how overwhelmingly concerned they are with avoiding controversy and preventing their students from being offended.
The correspondence shows how disconnected academia is from the public, which was furious that a controversial speaker could be silenced on campus.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.