During the 1990s, the most high-profile means of ideological enforcement on campus were “speech codes,” or overly-broad harassment policies that could get students and faculty in trouble for controversial remarks related to race and gender. In recent years, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the number of speech codes has declined, but new means of silencing provocative speech have emerged. Among them: “Disinvitation attempts,” or protests pressuring campus administrations to bar unpopular political figures from coming to campus after they had been invited to speak to a graduating class or student group (or drive them from campus once they have arrived).
Heterodox Academy, a non-partisan group of faculty dedicated to preserving viewpoint diversity in academia, has produced data about the frequency of such instances over the last 16 years. Their key findings: Efforts to bar speakers from campus appear to be on the upswing, and, since the beginning of the Obama years, it has been the campus Left that has been doing most of the disinviting.
Why the surge in left-wing activity since 2009? One possible factor is that the Obama administration’s Office for Civil Rights in Education has gone all-in for the activists, pursuing a hard-line interpretation of Title IX and rarely even playing lip service to freedom of speech. So the campus Left felt, correctly, that the federal government had its back.
At the same time, young progressives may have been frustrated by the fact that even the election of the most liberal President in a generation didn’t fully dismantle the patriarchy or eliminate traditionalist or bigoted views, and therefore set out to look for less, er, liberal ways to effect political change.
Alternatively, apologists for the overzealous campus protesters would say, young people are merely becoming more politically activated and more alert to the oppression around them. In that case, the sense of injustice is sure to be aroused further during the next four years, and the disinvitation craze can’t be expected to abate anytime soon.