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How Far Will They Go to Shut Down Free Speech on Campus?

July 15, 2019

 

How far is the left willing to go to shut down free speech on college campuses? At Williams College, a professor “threatened violence” in response to a call from other faculty members to adopt a statement in favor of free expression. 

 

Goldwater Institute senior fellow Jonathan Butcher writes about the latest threat to free speech on college campuses in an article for Fox News:

 

At Williams College in Massachusetts, biology professor Dr. Luana Maroja wrote online last year that she was concerned about student and administrator attitudes regarding free speech. She gathered more than 100 faculty signatures on a petition calling for the school to adopt what is known as the “Chicago Principles,” a statement in favor of free expression developed by the University of Chicago. 

 

More than 60 schools have endorsed this statement, a welcome response to the disrupted events and other nonsense that have plagued universities around the country.

 

Some Williams students will have none of it. Maroja says that more than a dozen of them barged into a faculty meeting last November holding signs such as “free speech harms” and saying faculty were trying to “kill” the students. 

After that, tensions escalated. The College Fix reports that a professor subsequently “threatened violence” if Williams adopted the Chicago statement. All this, because Maroja dared to promote the idea that Williams should maintain a “climate of mutual respect.”

 

Williams is a private school, so the First Amendment doesn’t automatically apply to institutional activity there as it does on public college campuses. Still, students should expect that the school would want to promote the civil exchange of ideas. 

 

And when discussions devolve into threats of violence, it’s small wonder that students opt to pursue truth via hysterical rhetoric and physical confrontation rather than through discussion and debate.

If you expected the college administration to stand up for free speech and mutual respect, think again. Earlier this week, Williams’ officials waved a white flag and announced the school will not adopt the Chicago statement but draft “speaker invitation guidelines.”

 

Unfortunately, this is not the only time speech has come under attack on college campuses. It’s merely one of the more recent examples. From invited speakers being chased off of campus to college presidents being shouted down, disrupting another’s right to be heard has become an altogether too common occurrence at universities around the country.

 

As Butcher writes, though, there is a solution to this problem. Public universities in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, and Wisconsin adopted policies—inspired by the Goldwater Institute’s model legislation—to protect everyone’s freedom of expression on college campuses. 

 

An incident in Wisconsin shows how those policies are already protecting speech. Protesters at the University of Wisconsin-Madison marched outside a building where invited lecturer Katie Pavlich, a conservative political commentator, was speaking. Reports of the protest said the students did not disrupt the event or try to shout down the speaker because of the new Wisconsin university policy that includes discipline for such actions. That’s good news for the freedom of speech, and hopefully a sign of things to come.

 

Nowhere is the need for open debate more important than on America’s college campuses. Students maturing from teenagers into adults must be confronted with new ideas, especially ideas with which they disagree, if they are to become informed and responsible members of a free society. Colleges and universities need to recognize the role they play in shaping their students’ openness to ideas and take action to ensure that free expression is protected on their campuses.

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