Admit it as a first step? College administrators recognize lack of freedom of expression

College administrators now recognize that they have created environments on their campuses that diminish free speech and stifle intellectual liveliness. For years, the game plan was simply to disown the stifling of free speech on college campuses, while imposing language codes, running ideological orientation programs, and hiring faculty and staff. student affairs that all think alike. This strategy of denial, however, has become impractical as alumni, prospective students, and the general public signal that the game is over.

A report released at the end of the fall semester by the Academic Leaders’ Task Force on Free Speech on Campus, an initiative of the Bipartisan Policy Center, acknowledged that some colleges lack a real commitment to freedom of speech. The report was titled “Campus Free Expression: A New Roadmap. That such a report had to be produced is an admission that the principles of free speech had strayed from many colleges and universities. A new roadmap would not be necessary if college leaders knew their current location and found it appropriate.

The report is a good faith effort, at one level, to tackle a difficult subject. He recognizes the importance of freedom of expression in higher education and notes the need for a diversity of perspectives on campus. Obviously, much discussion and deliberation took place on the report.

The report, however, is long on bureaucrats and short on specific fixes.

It does not address how college administrations have allowed the principles of free speech to dissipate over the past 30 years. He fails to identify the campus influences that have led to the descent of colleges into ideological gulags that lack diversity of viewpoints and where some voices are often stifled.

A key gap is the report’s interest in balancing freedom of speech on campus with ongoing initiatives for diversity, equity and inclusion. A university cannot claim allegiance to free speech and then say “but…” equity and inclusion.

There should be no tension between a commitment to free speech and diversity measures. Freedom of speech philosopher Frederick Schauer wrote that freedom of speech is a fundamental principle of human dignity. It does not need to be hedged against other priorities. Schauer notes that freedom of expression actually promotes inclusion by empowering the widest range of voices. Further, Schauer pointed out that the harms of suppressing free speech outweigh the occasional bad effects of open discussion. But a solid debate on campus will not take place in an environment where students and faculty are constantly concerned about breaking a code of speaking.

Over the years, organizations such as the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), as well as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) have sounded the alarm over the deterioration of freedom of expression on campuses. . FIRE President Greg Lukianoff explained the situation in a recent essay, highlighting the number of colleges that impose restrictive speech codes and the alarming increase in colleges punishing professors for engaging in protected speech. Constitution. He writes: “American higher education has become too expensive, too illiberal and too conformist. A FIRE report last fall said more than 80 percent of students nationwide report self-censorship on their own campuses.

Compliance is inevitable in environments where everyone is expected to think alike, and those who don’t are afraid to speak up. It is dangerous and contrary to everything the colleges once stood for. As the famous socio-political observer Walter Lippmann wrote a century ago, “where everyone thinks the same, no one thinks much”. It seems that thinking the same is not just the effect of a stifled culture, it is the intention.

ACTA President Michael Poliakoff wrote in an email to members that there is a nationwide “alumni revolution”, of alumni who expect their alma mater to protect the freedom of expression. He encouraged alumni to rally for change in their colleges and “make donations conditional on those changes.”

Restoring an environment conducive to intellectual vitality and freedom of expression in higher education will be difficult and sometimes painful. It will take more than political reports and adjustments, as Princeton policy professor Keith Whittington wrote in the Fordham Law Review: “Ultimately, the realization of the principles of free speech on college campuses is as much a matter of culture as it is of politics.

Changing cultures takes time, but time is running out.

Nearly a generation of students have come to the world without realizing how much freedom of speech empowers them and society as a whole. A polarized nation reflects this lack of understanding.

Jeffrey McCall is a media critic and professor of communications at DePauw University. He has worked as a radio news director, journalist and political media consultant. Follow him on twitter @Prof_McCall.

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