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UNC officials denounce raucous student protest

Posted April 15, 2009
Updated April 16, 2009

— University of North Carolina administrators reacted strongly Wednesday to a student protest that had to be broken up by campus police.

Hundreds of students disrupted a Tuesday night speech by former Republican presidential candidate Tom Tancredo as he tried to speak about his opposition to in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.

UNC Old Well Immigration speech sparks rowdy protest

Tancredo left after a protester broke a window and police shut down the event. He had been invited by the campus chapter of Youth for Western Civilization, a student group that opposes mass immigration and multiculturalism.

"This is probably the worst I've experienced on a college campus," Tancredo told WRAL News on Wednesday.

His speeches on immigration routinely generate protests, he said, but they're usually silent protests by students holding banners.

The scene brought sharp rebukes of students from UNC President Erskine Bowles, Chancellor Holden Thorp and Roger Perry, chairman of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees.

"As someone who believes in free speech to my very bones and who also strongly believes that students need to hear from knowledgeable people with very different opinions, I was deeply disappointed that congressman Tancredo was not allowed to deliver his remarks," Bowles said in a statement.

"There’s a way to protest that respects free speech and allows people with opposing views to be heard," Thorp said in a statement.  "Here, that’s often meant that groups protesting a speaker have displayed signs or banners, silently expressing their opinions while the speaker had his or her say. That didn’t happen (Tuesday) night."

Bowles and Thorp called Tancredo Wednesday to apologize for the incident.

"Kids are kids. They get emotional. They get crazy. But that doesn't mean they can start throwing rocks and bricks and start breaking windows," Tancredo told WRAL News. "I don't remember a campus where we could never even get a speech going."

Officers ejected two women who delayed the speech in Bingham Hall by holding a 12-foot banner across the classroom where Tancredo was to speak. It read, "No dialogue with hate."

Tancredo tried to pull the banner away, saying, "You don't want to hear what I have to say because you don't agree with me."

Campus Police spokesman Randy Young said pepper spray was "broadcast" to clear the area as the women were escorted outside. An officer also fired a stun gun, but it wasn't aimed at anyone, he said.

Young said the use of force was being investigated by the department.

"I just thought that it was going to continue to get worse and worse, and my first thought was just to get out of there as quickly as possible," said Chapel Hill resident Gayle Kietur, who witnessed the incident.

Tancredo said after officers escorted him out of the room that he had never been silenced by protesters.

"This is the free speech crowd, right?" Tancredo joked at one point as protesters screamed at him.

Campus police are trying to determine whether any criminal charges should be filed in the case. The UNC Division of Student Affairs also is investigating if any students violated the campus honor code.

Students for a Democratic Society, the campus group that organized the protest, released a statement late Wednesday in which it blamed the police for escalating the incident.

"All organizations involved in the protest were non-violent. Rather, it was the violence employed by the campus police that created a climate of fear and chaos," the statement said. "The issue is not about a broken window; it is about broken families, deportation and xenophobia."

Still, Perry called the protesters' actions "shameful."

"While respecting the right for orderly protest, we also feel that all thoughts and views should have freedom of expression on our campus," he said in a statement.

Before the speech ended, some in the audience of 150 urged the students to let Tancredo speak.

"We are the children of immigrants, and this concerns us," said junior Lizette Lopez, 22, vice president of the Carolina Hispanic Association. "So we would at least like to hear what he has to say if you want to hear what we have to say."

Some UNC students echoed that sentiment Wednesday.

"Everyone has a right to their opinions and, even if you disagree with someone, they still have a right to say what they want to say," student Matthew Hoehn said.

Tancredo told WRAL News that he blamed UNC faculty members and other adults in the room for encouraging the protesters instead of trying to calm the situation.

"That was discouraging to see at a major college campus," he said. "You might see it at some podunk place, but you wouldn't have thought it would be at a place like the University of North Carolina."

He quickly turned the episode into a fundraising opportunity, with his Team America PAC issuing a mass e-mail discussing his experience at UNC and soliciting donations.

Riley Matheson, president of the group that invited Tancredo to campus, said they hope he comes back to finish his speech.

"I hope that the university will pay congressman Tancredo to come back," Matheson said, noting the Leadership Institute, a Virginia-based group, had paid $3,000 for Tancredo to visit UNC.


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  • karlwallerartist Apr 23, 2009

    There are plenty of US Citizens who could benefit from In State Tuition rates. They should get preferential treatment over Illegal Immigrants(who have broken the law). The guest speaker was there to make a logical argument for this. Unfortunately when someone cannot engage in a logical debate, the only option becames throwing a tantrum. The most amusing part of this is that the Students made themselves look very much like the "Hate Speakers" they claim to despise.
    These weren't Students, they were children and an emberassment.

  • gammasandi Apr 16, 2009

    perhaps taxpayers who fund the "higher" education will wish to protest the protesters should we have a repeat performance of student misbehavior

  • whatusay Apr 16, 2009

    The trouble making students who protested with violence need to be expelled.

  • Celt Apr 16, 2009

    It seems ironic that the protesters have probably done more to bolster the conservative cause than the conservatives involved!

  • ContinuityMan Apr 16, 2009

    Wow! Denouncement is a devastating response. It's a brutal punishment those perps will remember for the rest of their week!

    "Your right to wave your arms ends at the tip of my nose." The same goes for the freedom of speech, if any of you twerps are reading this, or having it read to you. I'll translate: you can protest what I have to say, but wait your turn and do it in a non-threatening manner.

    Let the speaker say his/her stuff, then razz them with catcalls, whistles, and other displays of your intelligence, breeding, and superior concern about human rights afterward.

  • TooMuchGovt Apr 16, 2009

    How about making the Tancredo haters attend special sensitivity training to learn that this country does allow free speech. Apparently the babies at UNC think that they have some Darwinian right (not God given of course) to never hear speech that they disagree with. I think we can thank the staff and faculty at UNC for fostering that atmosphere.

  • Ouaouaron Apr 16, 2009

    The only acceptable resolution to this travesty is to have Mr. Tancredo back to finish, expulsion of the person or people who assaulted him and disciplinary action against all UNC employees who assisted in inciting the incident. Additional justice could be meted out by formally charging the perps with assault with a deadly weapon and destruction of state property, followed by requiring full restitution of the damage plus an additional speaking fee for Mr. Tancredo.
    I'm not holding my breath.

  • madamwuf Apr 16, 2009

    How classy, Carolina. Even NC State managed to show Bill Clinton respect during his speech.

  • braddyg Apr 16, 2009

    "Hate speech has no place on campus, even in the guise of first amendment or academic freedom."

    So it's okay to hate someone because of their political views, just not their legal status?

    "Also some misguided person here objected to Cornel West being invited. Prof. West is a distinguished academic in Princeton who was invited by 11 entities including the UNC chancellor."

    How was that misguided? West has clear ties to both Sheik Khalil Mohammed (look him up) and Farrakhan's Nation of Islam. How does the fact that he was invited by "11 entities" change anything? You said the administration wouldn't invite Farrakhan or Nation of Islam speakers; you were clearly wrong. But I wouldn't expect you to admit that.

  • carolinablue74 Apr 16, 2009

    "For several years, I worked next door to a building that housed an abortion clinic. The right-wing nuts that prayed and yelled at everyone physically imposed themselves every day on legal entrants to that building. It happens every single day in this country; where's the outrage for those oft repeated injustices?"

    It is difficult to reason with people who either don't know the law or are living in willful ignorance because they want to. It is sad that these protests happened but when you are playing with incendiary material there is bound to be fire. When did the last such incident happen that a conservative speaker got booed out of the stage, 1975 when David Duke was "invited" to speak at the Memorial Hall. Hate speech has no place on campus, even in the guise of first amendment or academic freedom. Also some misguided person here objected to Cornel West being invited. Prof. West is a distinguished academic in Princeton who was invited by 11 entities including the UNC chancellor.