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Education

Protecting Free Speech on Campus

Heritage has just published a much-needed book entitled The Not-So-Great Society. It takes a critical look at the results of that frantic burst of statism, Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society.” Federal power was injected in numerous areas of American life that had never before been subject to Washington’s dictates. Education, K–12 through college, was among them. The consequences, as the book reveals, have been terrible.

In today’s Martin Center article, Jonathan Butcher, education policy analyst at Heritage, writes about the need we now confront to protect free speech on college campuses. A number of states, he reports, have legislation meant to protect free speech, including Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. State politicians have stepped in because campus officials are usually hesitant to stand up to the bullies who want to silence or punish speech they disagree with.

Crucially, those who interfere with the speech of others must be held accountable. Butcher writes, “Lawmakers in North Carolina and Arizona, along with the Wisconsin officials and Georgia lawmakers, adopted provisions stating that universities should consider consequences for students who violate someone else’s expressive rights — holding individuals responsible for their actions. In North Carolina, the provision says that anyone who ‘substantially disrupts the functioning of the constituent institution or . . . [disrupts] the protected free expression rights of others’ may face ‘a range of disciplinary sanctions.’ Arizona’s provision is similar, and specifically says that the university may consider suspension or expulsion.”

This is good, but why are so few states taking action? I suspect that the reason is the power of Democrats in many states don’t want to cross swords with their “progressive” allies in the higher ed establishment.

Butcher concludes, “The defense of free expression on campus is vital and, ultimately, not complicated. One need only ask a student. Jake Lubenow, University of Wisconsin student and chair of the College Republicans, told me in an interview that his school’s policies have not ‘prohibited anyone from protesting.’ He says, ‘It’s not a complicated policy. If you go into the room, you stop the speech, you’re violating the policy. If you don’t, you’re not.’”

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

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