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Not a Happy Campus
“An Alarming Concentration of Anti-Speech Activity”

The authoritarian antics of left-wing campus activists and craven administrators in the 2015-2016 academic year represented the most intense institutional threat to free speech in the United States in a generation, according to an anti-censorship watchdog. The Associated Press reports:

The “Jefferson Muzzles,” those dubious awards shaming the nation’s worst free-speech offenders, are taking aim at higher education this year — from tarring those at Yale who warned students against donning culturally insensitive Halloween costumes to feathering others for muzzling the press and more.

… “Never in our 25 years of awarding the Jefferson Muzzles have we observed such an alarming concentration of anti-speech activity as we saw last year on college campuses across the country,” according to the center’s statement Wednesday that announced the “winners.”

It’s important not to overstate things: The United States enjoys some of the most robust speech protections in the world, and the fact that campuses have devolved into fits of censorship by overzealous students over the last year does not mean that the First Amendment is dead, in letter or in spirit. But one way that America’s free speech tradition survives is through the efforts of groups like the Jefferson Muzzles, which identify and target threats to liberty before they menace a larger share of the body politic. So without overhyping their significance, it’s important to take creeping campus censorship seriously.

The biggest question is what, if anything, there is to do about it. There are some policy changes that could be productive. Several U.S. Senators, for example, are taking aim at the Office for Civil Rights in Education, the highly ideological federal agency that has used its powers to protect students from “harassment” to curtail constitutionally protected speech. And some state legislatures are starting to ask questions about state funding for campus diversity bureaucracies, many of which have questionable educational value and which often serve as vehicles for left-wing censors to intimidate political opponents.

Another avenue we’ve proposed: Colleges that care about free and open expression “should ask prospective students to demonstrate—through essays, recommendations, and extra-curricular activities their independence, toughness, and openness to opposing views.” A crop of students admitted with this criterion in mind might be less likely to demand that “trigger warnings” be slapped onto innocuous academic texts, or that students who disagree with them be forced to undergo punitive “diversity training.”

Ultimately, however, the tide of campus illiberalism probably won’t be beaten back through a policy change, but through sustained persuasion and advocacy by groups and individuals who think that America’s free speech tradition is worth preserving—in higher education, and in society at large.

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  • qet

    Before they require their prospective students to demonstrate their commitment to free speech, they must require their faculties and administrators to do so. Ay, there’s the rub.

  • Beauceron

    “The biggest question is what, if anything, there is to do about it”

    The answer to that is nothing– well, you can do what you’re told or face the consequences. That’s what we do about it: obey. Be as small and submissive as possible. That’s what they want out of you and that is what we will give them.

    “Several U.S. Senators, for example, are taking aim at the Office for Civil Rights in Education, the highly ideological federal agency that has used its powers to protect students from “harassment” to curtail constitutionally protected speech.”

    Is it the same crew who took aim when the Obama administration used the IRS to curb the rights of nonprofit groups that opposed them? Is it the same crew that stood silently by while the US DOJ insisted the Civil Rights Act does not apply or protect white people, the same crew who did nothing when the DOJ dismissed charges against the Black Panthers in what a senior DOJ civil rights lawyer called the worst instances of voter intimidation in 20 years. That crew? They will do nothing. I know it, you know it. Everyone knows it.

    “And some state legislatures are starting to ask questions about state funding for campus diversity bureaucracies”

    Oh, well, if they’re starting to ask questions…they will do nothing, I know it, you know it. Everyone knows it.

    “Colleges that care about free and open expression”

    Universities do not care about free expression except for their OTW community. I know it, you know it. Everyone knows it. Those are the people that matter.

    This is the New America. If you’re white, keep your racist, privileged mouths shut and do what People Of Color tell you to do. That is the message, sent loudly and clearly and repeatedly from campus administrators, professors, the media, politicians and from students themselves.

    This is the new normal, and we will just get used to it. And do not insult us by pretending they are going to do something about it.

  • Robert Bennett

    It should be made clear by all university administrators that any attempt to “occupy” a building or office and any attempt to break up a speech by an invited speaker will be dealt with with summary expulsion..Then it will be incumbent on the administration to carry through on the threat.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Agreed. This worked very well at OSU last week, for example…

  • FriendlyGoat

    When articles include disclaimers, it’s important to pay attention to what they are and why they are included. So:

    “It’s important not to overstate things” AND “So, without over-hyping their significance,…”

    • Fred

      Totalitarian Marxism and Islam are examples of thought schools which have both been examined sufficiently to declare them discredited. They ARE “opposing views”—-that is, in opposition to freedom. Having students write essays to prove their “openness to opposing views” (including these by definition) somehow sounds stupid when considered in this light.

      Not at all. At one time millions of people adhered to Marxism. Thousands still do. About a billion people adhere to Islam. Discredited though they might be (and that’s debatable in the case of Islam, less so, of course, in the case of Jihadi Islam), it is valuable see them from the point of view of their adherents, in other words to carefully examine, in as objective a manner as possible, what their strongest arguments are and what their appeal is. Doing so aids the struggle against them.

      Heavens, no, we didn’t mean that. We just want students to sign off on their willingness for us to come in and trash feminism, environmentalism, anti-discrimination, and the idea of human rights applied to economics.

      Tendentious much? Of course we all know that feminism, environmentalism, anti-discrimination, and “human rights” applied to economics, as all those are currently practiced, are flawless and above reproach and criticism. Still, if feminism etc. as they are practiced are so self-evidently superior to all alternatives, why are you guys so anxious to suppress presentation of any alternatives? Why, one might almost get the impression your positions are based on ideological rigidity rather than strength of argument. Nah, couldn’t be that.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Yes, millions of people followed Marx—a weirdo—to a particular practical test (among others) of his ideas—-the Soviet Union. It was a catastrophe which is why real Marxism is discredited and people in universities mostly need to study it for its failure in practice—-not insist on their open-mindedness to bring it back and go again. The singular flaw is obvious in hindsight. Coerced transfer of all property to a common ownership cannot produce anything but strife governed by corruption.

        As far as I’m concerned, Islam has precisely the same problem. Muhammad was an arrogant nut in his own time, demanding (now from the grave) adherence to his particular ideas about EVERYTHING in faith, practical life and even government. It does not matter that a billion or more people are sucked into hocus pocus about him being a prophet and his sayings being essential and unchangeable. The whole root of it is hypnotic bullsh*t surviving on nothing but mindless repetition and producing nothing but either chaos or strongmen anointing themselves to rule with coercion to prevent the chaos.

        We are really stupid to try to get young people to be open-minded to this—-and, yes, I know some from my left side are still stupid in this regard. We could redeem Islam by keeping a couple of dozen humanistic platitudes loosely drawn from it to preserve the supposed “best” and by then trashing the whole Muhammad myth, but no one in the billion is likely to go along. As a matter of fact, they are obligated to get very angry at the suggestion and very possibly kill people like me over it.

        No American conservatives that I know of are asking for real Marxism or real Islam, as philosophies, to be met with open minds. So, if conservatives want kids to write college-admission essays on how open-minded they are, let’s be sure and tell them what the conservatives are asking for in those essays. Are you willing to be indoctrinated against the ideas of feminism, environmentalism, anti-discrimination and human rights applied in economics?

        • Jim__L

          Conservatives have figured out there are serious drawbacks to 2nd/3rd wave feminism, questionable environmentalism, what people claim as “anti-discrimination” these days, and what can happen when the best of intentions are applied to economics — particularly when any or all of this is implemented by a monolithic and highly coercive state.

          Easy enough to understand, there?

          • FriendlyGoat

            I have freedom of speech, but I do not ask permission to come to your church to argue against its doctrine for the edification of your congregation. Not only would your pastor or denomination office (if you have one) throw up the defensive walls, but presumably your co-members would not want to hear me and do not go to church for the purpose of listening to lectures from “just anybody”. You and your people would not only not want me there for worship services, but they would not want me putting on free seminars in your building at any other time of the week.

            Students and faculty may feel that way too at particular colleges. The students, in particular, if they are paying (and I hear they are these days), have just as much right to influence the tones of their campuses on matters of opinion as your paying church members do to control the tone of your church. What “conservatives have figured out” about the topics you mention is not substantially different from what atheists have figured out about the beliefs of your church or any church. You are against feminism, environmentalism, anti-discrimination and left-side economics.
            Atheists are against religionism and every line of logic which proceeds from “God-anything” and, as you know, they can make as good a case as you can against environmentalism.

            Before you tell me how different these scenarios are, please remember that churches and miscellaneous ministries have tax exemptions for no particularly good reason other than being politically customary. Colleges do too, but don’t expect some of them to defend their fortresses less than you defend yours.

          • Jim__L

            So a university is a church, and Political Correctness is a sacred doctrine?

            Wow. Explains a lot.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Yes, it does and not enough people talk about it. Schools of thought are schools of thought.

          • Jim__L

            I think you missed my point.

            I was shocked, but not really surprised, when you presented a moral equivalence between Christianity and the sort of schlock that has come out of academia for the last 50 years.

            I think you owe Christianity an apology.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Off the bat, I think you would be hard-pressed to find anyone in this forum who has ever celebrated Jesus in writing more than I have. So if you know of someone who makes a habit of insulting Him in the comment section (and there are many), go ask them for the apology, not me.

            But “Christianity” as practiced by every church with a tax exemption is not a monolith and some religious ideas are not even Christian anyway. Let’s consider here that the church contains Catholicism, the Mormons (including their fundamentalist cousins in Hildale, UT, and Colorado City, AZ), the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Westboro Baptist of Topeka, all the “liberal” denominations now considered nearly godless by conservatives, the Baptists and Pentecostals who are still feuding over “once saved always saved” and “speaking in tongues”.
            Then there are churches who you might consider “Bible Believing”.

            Then there are Muslims, Christian Scientists, Unitarians, Church of Scientology, and any number of cults worshiping just about anything.

            Similarly, you have university people espousing all kinds of views.
            They don’t storm all the churches insisting on equal time to argue the various doctrines. When the church people want to storm the universities with all the various “truths”, someone ought be be raising the point that there ARE reasons why this may be resisted.
            So I raised it. You, meanwhile, are too much of a thinker to be having a kneejerk reaction like you are.

          • Jim__L

            A university, especially a public university, is an institution whose only excuse for existing is independent inquiry. As such, being “stormed” by those who disagree with the establishment is pretty much why they exist.

            To say that they should be honored as churches are — as a seat of moral knowledge — is an insult to the churches, and a dire risk to the purpose of universities themselves.

          • FriendlyGoat

            What is a church’s “excuse for existing”. As they might say in an essay assignment, please form your answer around the entire list of “churches” recognized for a tax exemption. Each of them thinks it holds the key to “moral knowledge”, of course, but why should the rest of us think so when we all can easily point to doctrines which are nuts?

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