That freedom extends to both Landsburg and Seligman as well as to UR as an institution, and as university president, Seligman had the right to both personally and institutionally condemn Landsburg’s remarks as long as UR takes no official action against the professor for his expression.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that all public universities and the vast majority of private universities are supposed to protect unpopular views on campus, the reality is quite different. According to a study (large PDF) by the Association of American Colleges & Universities, less than 20 percent of faculty members strongly agreed that it was “safe to hold unpopular positions” on their campus. This is borne out by multiple cases from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (where I work), such as that of SUNY Fredonia’s Steven Kershnar, who was denied promotion because of his op-eds in a local newspaper, or Purdue University-Calumet’s Maurice Eisenstein, who was investigated under nine complaints of harassment for his Facebook comments about Islamist violence.
While Seligman had the right to condemn Landsburg, whether doing so was wise is a different issue. This article from UC Berkeley, which points out that its chancellor condemned an affirmative action bake sale on campus last fall but not a recent appearance from Louis Farrakhan, shows us why. Once a university president takes the position that some expression (like Landsburg’s) is beyond the pale, that president risks looking like a political hack when he or she fails to condemn equally controversial statements from the other side of the political spectrum.
Most worrisome, however, is the fact that UR allowed its students to disrupt Landsburg’s class without any consequences, despite the fact that campus security was on the scene. What happened in Landsburg’s class is a textbook example of “mob censorship,” where a group of people silence or drown out a speaker with whose views they disagree. A classroom is perhaps the least appropriate place for something like this to happen, and the fact that UR did not see fit to clear the heckling students out of the class is disturbing. If UR truly values “freedom of expression of ideas and action,” it should make clear that those who engage in mob censorship will be punished and that it will tolerate no further disruptions of campus speakers, be they professors like Landsburg or (the more common target) invited speakers like former Congressman Tom Tancredo, Minutemen leader Jim Gilchrist, or General David Petraeus.