Free speech is a massive step in human civilization. The ability to say something without fear of persecution and/or death is a big step in human society and is something that only around fifty countries have. My essay is about free speech in US colleges and how it is rapidly declining at a frightening rate.
In the case of Sweezy vs. New Hampshire in 1957 the Supreme Court said, “Teachers and students must always remain free to enquire, otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die.” Many would agree with that statement and consider it true, but in modern US colleges there is a massive restriction on free speech to the point where the comment made by the Supreme Court no longer applies in some places in the US. The US colleges are literally removing free speech from our futures by stamping it out in through what they teach younger people.
In 2010, there was a study by the Association of American colleges and universities. They found that over 70% of college students found it unsafe to hold unpopular positions on campus. This means they may have had opinions and thoughts about issues, but they did not feel safe expressing their thoughts in college.
Another troubling element of the 2010 is that the longer the student spends in the college, the less safe he or she feels about holding and expressing unpopular opinions. If we were to blame outside influences, then students would enter and leave college either as safe or unsafe as they like. However, it is clear that the longer a student spends in college, then the more restricted and repressed his or her freedom of speech is. The freshmen students feel safer using their freedom of speech, but they begin to feel less safe as they move through college.
To clarify, the feeling of safety is safety from repercussions and not from physical harm. The students feel safe from harm in college, but they do not feel safe from the penalization from professors. They feel uneasy about expressing their unpopular positions or opinions within their work and dissertations, and they do not feel as if they are free to speak their true feelings and opinions because they fear they will be marked down and/or looked upon unfavorably by the people that control their grades and ability to get their qualifications.
What is more worrying is the fact that colleges and universities in the US are blatantly restricting student’s freedom of speech. They claim they do it to help avoid people getting offended, which further proves the point that freedom of speech is less important to these colleges that the fear of people being offended. To cast freedom of speech aside for any reason, noble or not, is to shatter its very foundation and urinate in the faces of the people that died for it.
Speech codes are a common and blatant sign that students are having their freedom of speech restricted. The colleges and universities are not even hiding the fact that their speech codes are regulations that limit or bans expression. It literally says that in their regulations.
The first amendment in the US constitution states implicitly that people are allowed to speak and write what they wish, and yet colleges and universities are disregarding it when they set use speech codes. Yet, what is it that colleges are protecting students from? If it were from people writing instructions on how to build a bomb, then one could argue that the protection of life is more important than freedom of speech.
Yet, all of the speech codes in US colleges and universities are there to stop people writing or saying things that the college/university in question feels are offensive. They usually revolve around religion or political views. Colleges and universities in the US are banning students from speaking, writing and even holding opinions that contradict what the college likes, and that is a blatant middle finger to a US citizen’s freedom of speech.
Censorship in the academic community is commonplace. Students and faculty are increasingly being investigated and punished for controversial, dissenting or simply discomforting speech. It is time for colleges and universities to take a deep breath, remember who they are and reaffirm their fundamental commitment to freedom of expression.
The past academic year offers a depressing number of examples of institutions of higher education failing to live up to their core mission. At Northwestern University, for example, Professor Laura Kipnis endured a months-long Title IX investigation for publishing an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education in which she discussed a high-profile sexual assault case. Just a few months later, her fellow professor, Alice Dreger, courageously resigned in protest over Northwestern's censorship of a faculty-edited medical journal.
In a similar vein, Louisiana State University fired Professor Teresa Buchanan after nearly two decades of service for her occasional use of profanity, which the university suddenly deemed "sexual harassment," and Chicago State University enacted a new cyberbullying policy to silence a blog that was critical of university leadership.
At Iowa State University, administrators censored T-shirts created by the university's student chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The Regents of the University of California are considering adopting a "Statement of Principles Against Intolerance" that would ban "derogatory language reflecting stereotypes or prejudice." Other institutions are considering banning so-called "microaggressions" or requiring "trigger warnings" to protect students from having to confront potentially upsetting ideas and subjects. Still others have withdrawn invitations to speakers who have taken positions that some members of the community find unpleasant, offensive or wrong-headed — a practice President Barack Obama criticized this month, saying that leaving students "coddled and protected from different points of view" is "not the way we learn."
Restrictions on free expression on college campuses are incompatible with the fundamental values of higher education. At public institutions, they violate the First Amendment; at most private institutions, they break faith with stated commitments to academic freedom. And these restrictions are widespread: The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's most recent survey of college and university policies found that more than 55 percent of institutions maintain illiberal speech codes that prohibit what should be protected speech. For students and faculty, the message is clear: Speaking your mind means putting your education or your career at risk.
Enough is enough. Our colleges and universities should redeem the promise of the new academic year by reaffirming their commitments to freedom of expression.
Last year, the University of Chicago convened a Committee on Freedom of Expression to do exactly that. The committee issued a statement identifying the principles that must guide institutions committed to attaining knowledge through free and open discourse. Guaranteeing members of the academic community "the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn," the statement guarantees students and faculty the right "to discuss any problem that presents itself."
How should students and scholars respond when challenged by speech with which they disagree, or that they even loathe? The Chicago statement sets forth the answer: "by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose." Anticipating the push and pull of passionate debate, the statement sets forth important ground rules: "Debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed."
Perhaps most important, the Chicago statement makes clear that "it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive." Laura Kipnis, Alice Dreger and Teresa Buchanan would have benefited from this frank and necessary recognition.
Encouragingly, Princeton University, American University and Purdue University have already adopted the core of the Chicago statement as their own. If colleges and universities nationwide were to follow their example — either by adopting the Chicago statement or forging one of their own — academic censorship would face a powerful new challenge.
Backed by a strong commitment to freedom of expression and academic freedom, faculty could challenge one another, their students and the public to consider new possibilities, without fear of reprisal. Students would no longer face punishment for exercising their right to speak out freely about the issues most important to them. Instead of learning that voicing one's opinions invites silencing, students would be taught that spirited debate is a vital necessity for the advancement of knowledge. And they would be taught that the proper response to ideas they oppose is not censorship, but argument on the merits. That, after all, is what a university is for.
Free speech and academic freedom will not protect themselves. With public reaffirmation of the necessity of free speech on campus, the current wave of censorship that threatens the continuing excellence of U.S. higher education can be repudiated, as it should be, as a transitory moment of weakness that disrespects what our institutions of higher learning must represent.
Geoffrey R. Stone is a professor at the University of Chicago and served as chair of the school's Committee on Freedom of Expression. Will Creeley is vice president for legal and public advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.