West Lafayette, Ind. — Although he is just 22, Andrew Zeller is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in mathematics at Purdue University. He is one reason the school is a rare exception to the rule of unreason on American campuses, where freedom of speech is under siege. He and Purdue are evidence that freedom of speech, by which truth is winnowed from error, is most reliably defended by those in whose intellectual pursuits the truth is most rigorously tested by reality.
While in high school in Bowling Green, Ohio, Zeller completed three years of college undergraduate courses. He arrived at Purdue when its incoming president, Indiana’s former governor Mitch Daniels, wanted the university to receive the top “green light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which combats campus restrictions on speech and rates institutions on their adherence to constitutional principles.
Why is Purdue one of just six universities that have now aligned with the spirit of the Chicago policy? Partly because of Daniels’ leadership. But also because Purdue, Indiana’s land-grant institution, is true to the 1862 Morrill Act’s emphasis on applied learning. It graduates more engineers than any U.S. university other than Georgia Tech. Purdue, tied with the University of California at Berkeley, awards more STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) undergraduate diplomas than all but two public research universities (Penn State and Texas A&M).Among such universities, a higher percentage of Purdue students graduate in STEM fields than those of any school other than Georgia Tech and the University of California, San Diego.
The Yale instructor whose email about hypothetically insensitive Halloween costumes incited a mob has resigned her teaching position. She did so in spite of a letter of faculty support organized by a physicist and signed mostly by scientists, including social scientists, rather than humanities faculty.
This is, however, a smattering of what counts as good news in today’s climate: For the first time in FIRE’s 16 years of monitoring academia’s authoritarianism, fewer than half (49.3 percent) of American universities still have what FIRE considers egregiously unconstitutional speech policies. Purdue is one of six universities that eliminated speech codes this year, and one of just 22 with FIRE’s “green light” rating.
— George Will is a Pulitzer Prize–winning syndicated columnist. © 2015 The Washington Post