October 2, 2020

Colleges Where Free Speech Is Endangered

Leftists are no longer liberals because they hate the First Amendment.

There’s a sad irony in the fact that an institution originally conceived to encourage discourse and the free exchange of ideas is now rife with conformity and political correctness.

But a survey done this spring by campus free-speech advocates revealed that students at certain campuses are more into groupthink than others. This poll, which was conducted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and RealClearEducation and covered more than 20,000 students at 55 institutions across the nation, found that the University of Chicago was considered the best college for speech freedom, while students at DePauw University in Indiana believed their campus was the worst. Keeping DePauw company in the bottom 10 were Ivy League institutions Dartmouth and Harvard, along with other well-known schools like Louisiana State University and the University of Texas at Austin.

There’s one University of Chicago student, however, who begs to differ. Evita Duffy became the subject of derision when, as part of a “get out the vote” promotion, she wrote as her reason for casting a ballot, “I vote because the coronavirus won’t destroy America, but socialism will.” As Duffy explains, the reaction was fierce: “Fellow students attacked my character, my intellect, my family, my appearance, and even threatened me with physical violence, using foul and offensive language. I was called a racist and a xenophobe. Some compared me to animals. Others declared that they would personally stop me from voting, and many defended the personal attacks, saying I deserved to be bullied and that I don’t belong at the University of Chicago on account of my beliefs.”

Indeed, if that’s how they treat free speech at the first-place institution, one shudders to think of the reaction at the bottom-tier schools.

While the subject seems to be intended as encouragement, there’s a serious underlying problem illustrated by the survey. “Most students don’t want guest speakers with controversial views on campus,” writes analyst Jennifer Kabbany. “Seventy-one percent replied that they would oppose allowing a speaker on campus who would argue ‘transgender people have a mental disorder,’ 64 percent oppose a speaker who’d argue ‘abortion should be completely illegal,’ and 75 percent oppose a speaker who’d say ‘Black Lives Matter is a hate group.’” These ideas may not be mainstream, but they’re not particularly radical in nature, either. And they belong within the discourse on a college campus.

We often hear about conservative speakers getting shouted down on college campuses by left-leaning student groups. On the other hand, academics like Ibram X. Kendi, who recently coined the term “white colonizers” for white parents — such as Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett — who adopt black children, only create a ripple of criticism. Kendi dismissed these complaints, saying, “We should take it as a compliment when people attack us personally or when people misrepresent our work. Because that means they can’t challenge what we are actually saying or writing or meaning or doing. Take the compliments with grace and move on.” Of course, Kendi can say that since he has a secure position within the ivory tower, and since his cohorts secretly agree. And why shouldn’t they? Those on the Left are never subjected to “heckler’s veto” like conservative and libertarian speakers.

We should’ve seen trouble coming 40 years ago, when “free speech zones” began cropping up on college campuses. Even the ACLU objects to this censorship: “A university’s job is to teach students how to be contributing members of society, not to stifle expression.”

We’d argue that a university’s job is to broaden students’ educational horizons by teaching them about the benefits of Liberty and a free society, but at least they seem to get the point.

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