Our nation’s institutions of higher learning are supposed to be repositories of knowledge, enriched by the free flow of information and competition of ideas, but they are increasingly failing in this mission.
Sadly, college campuses, which tend to embrace liberal ideologies, including tolerance, oftentimes are among the most intolerant of opposing views, as evidenced by the imposition of speech codes and enforcement of “free speech zones,” which limit what can be said and where it can be expressed. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education notes that it “has received an increasing number of reports that colleges and universities are inviting students to anonymously report offensive, yet constitutionally protected, speech to administrators and law enforcement through so-called ‘Bias Response Teams.’” More than 230 schools have formed such teams, which oftentimes operate under broad definitions of “bias,” and create “a chilling effect on campus expression,” FIRE reports.
Tensions have reached a boiling point on many campuses, as illustrated by several recent examples here in California. Orange Coast College suspended a student for recording a professor’s anti-Trump rant, before backing down after a national outcry.
At UCLA, conservative communications instructor Keith Fink is accusing his department of political discrimination after suffering reductions in his class size and the rejection of his permission-to-enroll forms, which allow students to enroll in a class with the instructor’s permission, under a new department head with reportedly very left-leaning ideals. Only 200 of the 241 students who attempted to enroll in Fink’s course were admitted, even though the classroom has a capacity of 293. Ironically, the subject of the argument is Fink’s popular “Sex, Politics and Race: Free Speech on Campus” course.
Sometimes, attempts to stifle speech even get violent. A Cal State Fullerton instructor was suspended for allegedly striking a student from the College Republicans, who were staging a counterprotest of students rallying against President Donald Trump’s policies. And then there was the violent protest that forced the cancellation of controversial conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos’ planned event at UC Berkeley a few weeks ago.
But there is a bit of a silver lining as well. Just about a week prior to the UC Berkeley riot, a rowdy crowd forced the cancellation of another Yiannopoulos talk at UC Davis. In response, interim Chancellor Ralph Hextor announced that he is forming a work group of students, faculty and staff to recommend policies to ensure that even the most polemical speakers can have their voices heard on campus.
“When we prevent words from being delivered or heard, we are trampling on the First Amendment,” Hextor stated recently. “Even when a speaker’s message is deeply offensive to certain groups, the right to convey the message and the right to hear it are protected.”
Quite so. Moreover, there is no place for speech codes and free speech zones on college campuses — or anywhere else. After all, as FIRE senior program officer Adam Steinbaugh wrote in a recent Washington Examiner column, “How will students be able to defend their rights in the legislature or the courts if debating them in the classroom is to be discouraged?”
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