Should the Feds try to save Free Speech on Campus?

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That free speech on college campuses is under attack cannot be denied. We find invited speakers being disinvited or shouted down, “bias incident” reporting systems that encourage students to complain when they hear anything they don’t like, and professors who demean students who dare to question their assertions.

In the fairly recent past, most higher education leaders would have admitted that the assault on free speech was bad, but tried to say that it isn’t really much of a problem. But now we find that some actually praise it, such as New York University professor Ulrich Baer, who recently argued in the New York Times, “The idea of freedom of speech does not mean blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of the community.”

I’m not going to explain what’s wrong with that “speech must be regulated” view here (but if you’re interested, I did so in this Minding the Campus piece). The question at hand is what, if anything, the federal government should do to protect free speech against its many enemies.

In an April 30 Wall Street Journal piece, the well-known civil rights attorney (and co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) Harvey Silverglate made the case that, as his title said, “Trump and Congress Can Help Restore Campus Free Speech.”

Silverglate argues that the Department of Education should first of all rescind the Obama-era “guidance” telling colleges that they must ban all “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” which includes speech that any student might find objectionable. That rule, Silverglate points out, has led to such absurdities as the firing of Louisiana State University professor Teresa Buchanan on the grounds that some of her class discussions included sexually vulgar language. 

Read more at Martin Center
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