Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?

Photo of Student Protest courtesy of BBC

Professor Joe Goldblatt

I am no stranger to student protests. In 1973 I led a group of students into the Dean’s office at my undergraduate university and we held a sit in until the Dean agreed to meet with us. Our complaint was that a faculty member was treating students unequally because he was having a romantic relationship with one of the female students and the same faculty member was showing favoritism toward the actor Sal Mineo over a member of the full time faculty.

The late Sal Mineo who was twice nominated for an Academy Award served as a guest star at my university in a student production of the play Marathon ’33 that was written by the actress June Havoc who was the sister of the famed ecdysiast Gypsy Rose Lee. Mineo arrived on campus with his partner and immediately began complaining about the quality of direction of the play. The director who was a member of the university faculty resigned in protest. Upon his resignation I organised a student protest. Sadly, one year after my graduation, Mineo at only 37 years of age, was stabbed to death in an apparent robbery in a parking lot in Los Angeles, California.

The Dean kept us waiting for a few minutes in his office and then agreed to meet with us. Our protest resulted in a series of hearings on campus and eventually the head of the programme was accused with favouritism and mismanagement and was eventually moved to a new position within the university. However, as my graduation date grew closer, I noted that this same programme head practiced retribution by awarding me a very low mark of D for the module that I had taken with him that final semester.

I decided to contact the university ombudsman, a new role, created to enable students and others to seek an independent third opinion and where necessary to positively advocate on behalf of the complainant. My ombudsman listened intently to my moral outrage of being punished by the man whom I had calmly protested against and then said, while stroking his King Solomon like long white beard, “I suppose you could pursue this and you may lose. Alternatively, you could accept this mark and move on to your future life.” As I was graduating with honours and had received the second highest recognition in my class, I decided to move on.

However, when this week when I witnessed a small group of students protesting a U.S. Federal Judge speaking in their classroom I was reminded that protest is a legitimate right in a democratic society. The manner within which the protest is conducted is I believe also the most important aspect in terms of the eventual outcome.

During the protest at Stanford University in the U.S.A., the students disrupted the speaker’s remarks from the outset by loudly shouting their disapproval of his past judicial decisions and holding up large signs with rude messages. Due to their continuous disruption, the Judge was unable to continue his talk.

A few moments after the protest began, a senior administrator with the auspicious title of Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion rose from her chair in the front row of the classroom and addressed the Judge and his protestors. She almost immediately described how sad she was that the Judge’s previous court rulings had caused (her words) “harm and discomfort” to the students in the classroom. She then asked rhetorically if “the juice was worth the squeeze?”

Eventually the Judge left the classroom without completing his speech and the disgruntled students rallied around their administrator who had taken up their cause. In my view, the administrator’s decision to side with the students whilst perhaps with the good intentions of demonstrating pastoral care, was misguided and undermined the historic sacred principles of free speech.

Whilst the students may have disagreed with the Judge’s previous decisions and opinions, the classroom is not a courtroom and should not be used to prosecute this man. Rather, a classroom should be first and foremost a place where the light of courteous debate should illuminate the minds of young people and lead to better mutual understanding. The administrator’s interference dimmed this light and may have set an unfortunate precedent for future academic debates.

This Judge is not the first person to be de – platformed because of students disagreeing with his views. This phenomenon is so prevalent in the U.S. A. There is a now a new phrase being applied to similar situations on university campuses and it is entitled the Chicago Principles. The leader of the University of Chicago, an institution that has experienced innumerable protests over the war in the Vietnam and other key societal issues recently reaffirmed these principles by stating that “Free Speech is the Basis of a True Education.”

During my 47 year teaching career, once upon a time a small group of students raised a protest about my judgement in awarding their marks. Instead of first contacting me to discuss the issue, a well meaning administrator agreed with the students and ordered me to review and perhaps re – calculate their marks.

I once again sought out an independent ombudsman and was advised to meet with the administrator and discuss how I had arrived at the original decision. Upon hearing my explanation, the administrator apologised to me and the students were told the matter was now closed. There was no further protest.

However, whether it be upon university campuses, in the parliament or other places where free speech must be cherished, I believe that all citizens must be very careful to not allow the dimming of the light of free expression as it will be at the peril of greater society if we fail to show respect for other opinions that may be different from our own.

I still enjoy and often participate in many annual protests. However, when these protests refuse to welcome opposing views is the moment I shall return home. In order for society to progress, we must remember and defend that the principle that free speech is indeed the basis of a free society.

Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University and his views are his own. To learn about his other views visit

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