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Education

Who Will Take the Threats to Free Speech on Campus Seriously?

Nasty, thuggish attacks on free speech by leftist students, often aided by outside “Antifa” allies, has reached crisis stage. We have a large cadre of people who’d have fit in perfectly with Mao’s Red Brigades because they are eager to enforce ideological purity and punish those who disagree with “progressive” beliefs. What must be done?

That is the question Martin Center president Jenna Robinson and Anna Beavon Gravely (the North Carolina spokeswoman for Generation Opportunity) explore in this article.

While some college leaders at least say they want to stop the attacks and restore free speech and civility, we shouldn’t expect too much from the higher-education establishment itself. As the authors explain,

A recent survey of 440 American universities indicates that nearly half of them have adopted policies that infringe on the First Amendment rights of students. Also, many schools are willing to fire dissenting employees and create “free speech zones” for the sake of maintaining their public image and avoiding controversy. And in some cases a double standard has been established, where controversial expression is tolerated so long as it has a “liberal” slant.

Perhaps state politicians can use their authority over the colleges and universities they fund (and are supposed to be able to control but that’s very problematic) to deal with the free-speech problem. Toward that end, the Goldwater Institute has drafted model legislation called the Restore Campus Free Speech Act and it is now under consideration in a number of states, including North Carolina. The General Assembly has begun hearings on a bill modeled on the RCFSA. Guess what? The general counsel for the UNC system testified that it is unnecessary and the ACLU’s spokesperson objected that it is “overly broad.” The bill will probably pass despite such objections. Then we will find out if Governor Cooper, a Democrat who narrowly won last November, will sign it or veto it to make leftists happy.

One thing all the riots and disruptions have accomplished is to wake many Americans up the the fact that free speech is in danger. “Perhaps soon,” optimistically write Robinson and Gravely, “higher education will return to being a bastion of free speech and intellectual diversity.” That indeed must be the goal, and it it is not accomplished, more and more Americans might decide to do their college work at schools that haven’t let themselves become enclaves of, to use Jonah Goldberg’s apt phrase, “liberal fascism.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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