The Corner

Model Legislation to Protect Free Speech on Campus

On many of our college and university campuses, speaking freely is an act of bravery — if you disagree with the prevailing leftist notions about the world. Speech codes, “bias incident” systems, the mania over “microaggressions,” speaker disinvitations, and other features of contemporary college life tell non-progressives that they should just keep silent, while telling progressives that they are doing the right thing in trying to shut down debate over competing beliefs.

This has gone on far too long. In today’s Martin Center article, Stanley Kurtz writes about model legislation he worked on with the Goldwater Institute that would finally make free speech central to all the state institutions of higher education in states that adopt it. The Campus Free Speech Act would require the governing bodies of public colleges and universities to shore up the eroding foundations of free speech and report to the public on their results.

Kurtz explains why the restoration of free speech is so important, writing, “If true freedom of speech is ‘freedom for the thought that we hate,’ then freedom is actually a form of self-mastery. Far from being license, true freedom is an act of self-control, a refusal to physically extinguish even the speech we abhor. Freedom is a refusal to attack our opponents with everything we’ve got. Campus demonstrators have mistakenly elevated what they think of as sensitivity and civility over the principle of free expression. Yet the truth is, freedom of speech itself is the ultimate act of civility.”

He’s right, and that’s the thing “liberal” college administrators who are content to allow free speech to die the death of a thousand cuts at the hands of the Social Justice Warrior types have forgotten.

One crucial aspect of the bill requires colleges to include in freshman orientation (sorry if I have offended anyone by using that term) a session on the importance of free speech and respect for those who disagree with you. That would do a world of good, at least if it isn’t hijacked by those who believe that some speech and viewpoints deserve freedom while others don’t. Students would also be told that the school will not tolerate disruptive behavior and that there will be adverse consequences for those who won’t abide by the rules.

It will be fascinating to watch the political battles in states where the Campus Free Speech Act is introduced.

Kurtz sums up this way:” The model Campus Free Speech Act embodies the common understanding of liberty that unites all of us as Americans, even as it allows us to work out our differences through the democratic process.” But what will it tell us about states that won’t adopt it?

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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