Originally published on Inside Higher Education.
Colleges and universities increasingly face tough decisions regarding how to deal with manifestations of the growing Occupy movement on their campuses. We are all now well aware of the intense negative press the University of California at Davis and its chancellor, Linda Katehi, received after a group of peacefully seated protesters were pepper-sprayed by a campus police officer. Since then, new incidents have made headlines: Students associated with the Occupy movement have been disrupting public presentations by academics, activists, and politicians (most of whom identify as conservative). The protesters delivered messages or rebuttals to the person on stage using a practice called “the human microphone.” The human microphone amplifies a speaker’s voice by having many people repeat the speaker’s words in unison. The speaker initiates the practice by calling out “mic check” and the speaker’s fellow protestors demonstrate that they are ready to act by repeating “mic check.” The chorus then repeats the speaker’s words one sentence at a time. This practice — which originated as means to communicate at Occupy encampments where electronic amplification was forbidden — has become an important and recognizable symbol of the movement.
A recent news article in Inside Higher Ed reports on several such instances occurring on university campuses. The article’s author, Allie Grasgreen, notes many people believe that the Occupy tactic of mic checking powerful speakers is tantamount to “censorship.” This common assertion shares the logic of the demands made by Karl Rove when he was mic-checked at John Hopkins University: “If you believe in free speech and you have a chance to show it … if you believe in the right of the First Amendment to free speech … then you demonstrate it by shutting up and waiting until the Q&A session … Line up behind the mic….” Continue reading