Rutgers: Quarrel Over What Freedom of Speech Means

'The Montclair Dispatch' gets to the bottom of a termination of a Rutgers student, who formerly worked as a columnist for the 'The Daily Targum.'

Montclair native discovers a dilemma at Rutgers University.

Photo courtesy of Joseph Michalitsianos.

Aviv Khavich, a student at Rutgers University who formerly worked as a columnist for the The Daily Targum, has voiced his anger at being unfairly terminated from the publication and questioned the motives behind the termination.

When Milo Yiannopolous, an infamous conservative British journalist and technology editor of Breitbart News, started his “Dangerous Faggot” speaking tour at Rutgers University, the school reacted with passion and ferocity that one could only expect from one of the most diverse schools in the nation.

Yiannopolous came to Rutgers to speak on “How the Progressive Left Is Destroying Education,” which seemed to be too inflammatory for the proudly eclectic student body to handle. Protesters disrupted the speech by chanting “Black Lives Matter” and pouring fake blood on themselves. Yiannopolous’ supporters voiced an overwhelming retaliation in the form of a “Trump! Trump! Trump!” chant. The heated ordeal lasted for two to three minutes, after which the protesters squeezed out of the doors, leaving behind a trail of fake blood.

The situation sent shock waves through the Rutgers community, leaving the student body torn. Many students quickly took to social media to express their disgust at Yiannopolous’ free speech being aggressively stifled, and the inconsiderate behavior of the protesters. Others responded by saying that such a provocatively conservative figure should not have been invited to a school as liberal as Rutgers.  

Sitting proudly at the forefront of those fighting for free speech was Aviv Khavich, the Rutgers University sophomore and member of Young Americans For Liberty that organized for Milo Yiannopolous to speak at Rutgers. Khavich, an Israeli immigrant and resident of East Brunswick, studies computer engineering and computer science.

In the fall of 2016, The Daily Targum, Rutgers University’s print publication, invited Khavich to become a columnist. In the wake of the divisive Yiannopolous speech this year and the escalating rift within the political spectrum, Khavich admits he was “surprised, but flattered” that a liberal newspaper at a liberal school would go out of their way to recruit a proudly conservative writer. Still, that is exactly what Opinions Editor Maegan Kae Sunaz did, telling Aviv he was a “prolific writer” with an “important angle.”

Aviv joined the staff, and albeit being one of three conservative voices out of a “radically left-leaning staff of 20 columnists,” was keen to share his ideas and thoughts, regardless of if he felt as though he was being used as a token conservative so the publication could feign diversity. Soon after his inclusion into the paper, he began to “feel as though they didn’t like what I was saying.”

Khavich’s first column centered around the various inconsistencies that exist within some of the Black Lives Matter movement’s arguments. While the article trended for a week or so, Khavich claims he wasn’t happy with the article due to the title being “dumbed down” and various links he posted with the article to support its claims were cut from the final publication. Khavich says he hoped it would be a “fluke,” but unfortunately this hope was dashed five weeks later when he wrote a piece regarding immigration laws in response to a “March for Justice” organized by pro-immigrant group UndocuRutgers.

Khavich’s column was based largely on the precedent that he was an immigrant himself, and therefore his view that “enforcement of law does not equate to anti-immigration” may hold more weight than someone who has lived in America their whole lives.

Khavich claims it was at this point it became clear that The Daily Targum and the editing staff in particular “had clear political motives.” His column was given back to him after the editing process with several glaring changes. Chief Editor of The Daily Targum, Dan Corey, said these claims were “baseless.”

“The notion that there was political motivation in regards to how Aviv Khavich was treated here is baseless,” said Corey. “His behavior towards our editorial staff and paper as a whole was a far bigger issue than anything he wrote.”

While the The Daily Targum employs a high number of students that identify as liberal, Corey said that firing Aviv was never a matter of drowning out a conservative opinion within the paper. Corey also said that Khavich was replaced by another conservative columnist.

While the content of his immigration piece had not been altered, every instance that Khavich used the term “illegal alien” or “illegal immigrant” had been changed to “undocumented immigrant.”

Aviv feels as though the changes were made in an attempt to censor his opinions. When he asked the editing staff why it was changed, he was told it was an attempt to more tightly abide to AP style, a standard for terms and grammar in journalistic publications.

Aviv continued questioning the legitimacy of the editorial staff’s changes, often providing sources to back up his points in regards to the changes made in his column. Eventually, though, the consistency of his “badgering” led to what Dan Corey called “a lack of respect for both the editorial process and the publication itself.” The back and forth between Corey and Khavich eventually reached a breaking point, and in an email sent to Aviv, Corey terminated his column.

The termination of Aviv Khavich has left much of the Rutgers student body divided. Less than a week after his termination, Aviv wrote an article for The Tab online aggressively titled “I was fired from The Daily Targum for being a conservative.” In it, he details the timeline of his employment at The Daily Targum.

To many students, the article proved what had been suspected for a long time: Rutgers, New Brunswick is an overwhelmingly liberal campus and will stifle conservative opinion when given the chance. But many, along with chief editor Dan Corey, feel as though Aviv was asking for trouble. From inviting a divisive and incendiary voice such as Milo Yiannopolous to speak to criticizing Black Lives Matter in the school newspaper, Aviv certainly was up for a fight, or at least a heated discussion, on how free speech should be treated within college campuses.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login