A new report from a free speech watchdog group shows that the proto-totalitarian rot is getting even worse on college campuses. It’s not just the administrators and faculty, but also far too many students who are ethically degenerate.
In its annual survey, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression analyzed the speech codes at 486 American colleges and universities. A separate FIRE survey examines student attitudes, too, to compile an overall “free speech ranking.” The news isn’t good.
Although the blowback against “speech codes” and similar policies continues to push a few more colleges each year into FIRE’s acceptable, “green light” rating, the number of awful, “red light” schools is increasing even faster. (This means that the number of partly objectionable, “yellow light” schools is getting squeezed from both ends.) Only two schools, the University of North Carolina at Asheville and the University of South Florida, moved positively from yellow to green in the past year, while all the schools in the Minnesota college system moved, lamentably, from yellow to red.
In all, only 12.3% of higher-education institutions earned green lights, while 19.3% earned red lights. And remember that the 66.7% of schools with yellow-light ratings all have policies that worrisomely restrict free speech. To be specific, many colleges have policies providing for either punishment or mandatory “education and training” or “remedial … actions” for “offenses” as slight as sexist jokes and unkind social media posts.
Worse, reports FIRE, “far too many schools … regulate events on the basis of content or viewpoint.” And many colleges adopt the role of sexual-ethic police, defining “sexual harassment” so broadly as to punish all conduct that one party decides is “unwelcome,” which is an absurdly vague standard.
Some of the historically most prestigious colleges earned red light ratings, including Princeton, Colgate, Georgetown, Tufts, Tulane, and Notre Dame.
Moreover, those ratings involve only official, written policies. The separate, overall “free speech rankings” report is even more disturbing. Worse, the students themselves are happy to act as speech commissars. Take, for example from a nice round number, the 100th most speech-friendly college, Colby College in Maine. Only 27% of all students there say it is unacceptable to shout down a speaker. An astonishing 62% say that a speaker who says abortion should be illegal should “probably” (28%) or “definitely” (34%) not even be allowed on campus. And, showing how too many faculty promote indoctrination rather than free thought, less than half of Colby students would feel “somewhat” (31%) or “very comfortable” (just 14%) in “publicly disagreeing with a professor about a controversial topic.”
This is awful.
To repeat that which should need no repeating, universities are places where newly minted adults are supposed to learn by being exposed to a universe of ideas. Anyone, whether student, faculty, or administrator, who would limit students’ ability to hear and discuss ideas is violating a nearly sacred obligation. And if they are at a public university, they may well be acting unconstitutionally by using what amounts to the power of the state to abridge free speech. If they do so, it is they who merit punishment.
Whether public or private, the curtailment of expressive rights and privileges at an institution of higher education is an affront to all we should hold dear as Americans and, indeed, as human beings. At every school that ranks anything but superbly in FIRE’s list, school administrators should fix the problems or resign.