Is there a cure for the sad state of campus free speech today? Libertarian journalist and former Goldwater Institute intern Robby Soave says that more speech would definitely help fix the problem—not less of it.
Soave, an assistant editor at Reason.com, is the author of the new book Panic Attack: Young Radicals in the Age of Trump, which looks at millennial and Generation Z activism on college campuses. As part of the research for the book, Soave spoke to young activists from all across the political spectrum, from left to right, to gain a better understanding of what campus activism really looks like—and what that means for the health of campus free speech.
Activism isn’t what it used to be, Soave told a packed room at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus last night: These days, activists aren’t learning their craft from their professors, but rather from each other. Social media has made it easier than ever for wannabe activists to find one another. But as Soave writes at the start of his book:
Frustratingly, my conversations with young activists left me concerned that they will struggle to translate their feelings into any sort of cohesive movement that wins undecided Americans to its cause. That’s because they frequently seem almost hysterically opposed to building bridges with potential allies, preferring to settle scores with people who are for the most part already on their side. The college-aged activist of modern times is radically exclusionary and often views the principles of open debate with skepticism, if not outright hostility.
That prevailing view among college students certainly helps to explain why college campuses are often unfriendly to differing perspectives. Speaker shoutdowns are common occurrences, and many students worry more about being exposed to views they don’t agree with than about being complicit in the silencing of speech. But “exposure to more different views is better,” Soave said—students should put themselves in conversation with people who disagree with them to help keep a campus commitment to open debate healthy.
If free speech is to survive on our college campuses, civil discourse needs to be respected, Soave said. Students should have the right to protest, but they should allowed to interrupt only if the event is allowed to proceed. In collaboration with Stanley Kurtz of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the Goldwater Institute has drafted model legislation to protect all students’ right to free expression. This model bill requires the creation of an official policy at public universities that strongly affirms the importance of free expression, which also establishing a system of disciplinary sanctions for students and anyone else who interferes with the free speech rights of others. To date, state officials in Arizona, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Georgia have adopted proposals in keeping with the Goldwater approach.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey was on hand to introduce Soave at last night’s event, thanking the Goldwater Institute for its 30 years of defending liberty and Soave for his commitment to commonsense reporting. Goldwater Institute President and CEO Victor Riches also helped kick off the evening, calling it a pleasure to witness Soave emerge as a defender of free speech and common sense on college campuses.