Speaker Johnson and Governor Reagan

by Newt Gingrich

Speaker Mike Johnson’s visit to Columbia University this week reminded me of the first time that radical students decided to invade and effectively shut down a college campus.

In the 1960s, mobs of students and activists at the University of California, Berkeley held massive protests on and around campus. They were variously protesting for free speech, support of communism, progressive sexual rights, and against the Vietnam War. The protests crippled the university and caused chaos throughout the city. 

Then-candidate and later Gov. Ronald Reagan decided the Berkeley protests were unacceptable and took a strong stance for ending the chaos and bringing order back to campus. His position was speech can be free without disrupting civil life. It became a hallmark of his election and administration.

So, it’s important to keep in mind that today’s pro-Palestine (and in many cases pro-terrorist and antisemitic) student groups that are occupying Columbia, New York University, Yale, and other campuses are merely the latest example of extremism infecting U.S. academia.

Ahead of Speaker Johnson’s visit, I sent him a brief note reminding him just how tough Reagan was about Berkeley.

When Reagan announced his campaign for governor in a taped announcement on Jan. 4, 1966, he stressed that education in California had always been a bipartisan endeavor. In fact, he noted that the people had decided to accept a higher education tax to build California’s hallmark university.

“But it takes more than dollars and stately buildings. Or do we no longer think it necessary to teach self-respect, self-discipline, and respect for law and order? Will we allow a great university to be brought to its knees by a noisy dissident minority? Will we meet their neurotic vulgarities with vacillation and weakness?” Reagan said. “Or will we tell those entrusted with administering the university we expect them to enforce a code based on decency, common sense, and dedication to the high and noble purpose of that university, that they will have the full support of all of us as long as they do this – but we’ll settle for nothing less.”

Later, on May 12, 1966, Reagan gave a speech titled “The Morality Gap at Berkeley,” at the Cow Palace near San Francisco.

Citing a report which had been written documenting drug-use, sexual misconduct, delinquency of minors, vulgarity, and assaults on police officers during the various Berkeley protests, Reagan took a firm stance.

“How could this happen on the campus of a great University? It happened because those responsible abdicated their responsibilities, Reagan said. “… What in Heaven’s name does academic freedom have to do with rioting, with anarchy, with attempts to destroy the primary purpose of the University which is to educate our young people?”

Reagan closed by pointing out basic fallacies which the left at the time was embracing.

“When those who advocate an open mind keep it open at both ends with no thought process in the middle, the open mind becomes a hose for any idea that comes along. If scholars are to be recognized as having a right to press their particular value judgments, perhaps the time has come also for institutions of higher learning to assert themselves as positive forces in the battles for men’s minds.”

In an Aug. 15, 1967 letter to San Francisco State College Chancellor Glenn Dumke, Reagan challenged:  “How far do we go in tolerating these people & this trash under the excuse of academic freedom & freedom of expression?”

Finally, at a press conference in 1969, Reagan addressed concerns that trying to forcibly end the protests would escalate violence. He was clear.

“I am sick and tired of the argument about whether some effort to enforce law and order is going to escalate anything at all. The plain truth of the matter is this has to stop, and it has to stop like the day before yesterday and it is going to be stopped whatever it takes.”

Speaker Johnson was right to visit Columbia University – and to call for its president to resign.

It’s what Reagan would have done.

For more commentary from Newt Gingrich, visit Gingrich360.com. Also, subscribe to the Newt’s World podcast.

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