Obama urges college students not to silence people with opposing views

U.S. President Barack Obama holds his end of the year news conference at the White House in Washington December 18, 2015.

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

President Obama says while he supports activism on college campuses, he doesn't want students to silence people whose opinions might differ from their own.

In an interview with NPR released Monday and conducted last week, Mr. Obama was asked what he would have Yale and Harvard Law do after their students protested symbols representing defenders of slavery on their campuses.

Initially, the president said he didn't need to weigh in on every controversy, but he then went on to point out incidents in which college students were unwilling to hear other perspectives.

"My concern is not whether there is campus activism. I think that's a good thing. But let kids ask questions and let universities respond," he said. "What I don't want is a situation in which particular points of view that are presented respectfully and reasonably are shut down, and we have seen that sometimes happen."

The president alluded to two different situations in which college students protested invitations to IMF director Christine Lagarde and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In May 2014, for example, Rice backed out of a commitment to deliver the commencement speech at Rutgers University in May 2014 after students protested the university's decision to invite her. The protesters believed she shouldn't have been selected because of her involvement in the Iraq war.

"Well, feel free to disagree with somebody, but don't try to just shut them up," Mr Obama said. "It is possible for somebody not to be racist and want a just society but believe that that is something that is inconsistent with the Constitution. And you should engage."

  • Rebecca Shabad

    Rebecca Shabad is a video reporter for CBS News Digital.