For the last year, I’ve written more than a dozen articles about free speech on college campuses. From safe spaces, to microaggression reporting systems, and multiple campus protests that received national attention, it is clear that our nation’s universities are doing its students a disservice when administrators create nonsensical consequences for forms of speech that they don’t like.
Although it seems like the First Amendment is a fading part of campus life, there is hope, and simple ways to safeguard free speech at colleges and universities.
On Tuesday, a professor at the University of Chicago wrote an opinion piece for RealClearPolitics, outlining a five-point plan for reversing the trend of restricting potentially offensive speech.
In it, Charles Lipson argues that free speech on college campuses is on the verge of becoming extinct, and that administrators are largely to blame for the increased censorship.
“Today, dean-of-students offices are devoted to comforting delicate snowflakes and soothing their feelings. If that means stamping out others’ speech, too bad.”
His solution? It starts with communication at all levels. Step one, he says, is to make sure that the board of trustees “demands to know if free speech is protected on their campuses, in principle and in practice.” Then, he says that university presidents and top administrators should be held accountable for those results.
Second, he says that college acceptance letters should stress that, “our school believes in free speech, open debate, and diverse opinions. You will hear different views on controversial topics. You are urged to read, write, and develop your own views, but you may not suppress others.”
Lipson points out that students who are afraid of intellectual challenges should go to school elsewhere.
Third, he argues that one administrator should be appointed strictly to monitor free speech activities and to make sure that open debate happens on campus. Next, he demands that, “student affairs offices stop suppressing basic academic freedoms and start supporting them.” Lipson mentions that the office of student affairs shouldn’t exist to shield students from uncomfortable ideas or to suppress their speech.
Finally, Lipson wants students to know that they have every right to protest peacefully, but they have no right to disrupt others, and they will be punished if they do. He expresses that administrators who “coddle rabble-rousers” often ignore their corrosive effects.
Similarly, administrators at Gettysburg College created a new speech policy in April, which stresses the college’s commitment to free expression – even when forms of expression are seen as offensive. This comes after some student groups became upset about pro-life posters on campus.
The policy reads in part:
“Any effort by members of the College community to limit openness in this academic community is a matter of serious concern and militates against the freedom of expression and the discovery of truth. Each member of the community is therefore free to express their point of view on, or opposition to, any issue of public interest within reasonable restrictions of time, place and manner. Each member of the community is also expected to help guarantee the ability of other community members to express themselves freely. No group or individual has the right to interfere with the legitimate activity of other authorized persons and groups as interference with expression compromises the College’s goal of creating an environment where issues can be openly discussed.”
Although some of the steps proposed may seem small, they could do wonders for free speech on college campuses if implemented by administrators.