The Corner

Politics & Policy

Restoring Campus Free Speech

For decades, freedom of speech on college campuses has been under siege from restrictive speech codes. In just the last few years, the slow erosion of support for campus free speech has reached a crisis-point, with the rise of trigger warnings, safe spaces, and a raft of speaker disinvitations. Student support for freedom of speech has never been weaker than it is right now.

How can we restore and protect freedom of speech on our college campuses when many students have ceased to value or understand it, many faculty members have turned against it, and many administrators worry more about keeping their institutions off the front pages than about standing up for liberty?

I believe the answer to this question lies in comprehensive state-level legislation designed to secure freedom of speech on the campuses of public state university systems. Not only are these systems tremendously important in and of themselves, but a national debate over such legislation is bound to have influence on the policies of private colleges and universities as well.

In the fall of 2015, in response to the often illiberal demonstrations then sweeping across America’s colleges and universities, I offered “A Plan to Restore Free Speech on Campus.” Since then I’ve joined with Arizona’s Goldwater Institute to turn this plan into model state-level legislation. The resulting proposal also incorporates some innovative ideas for protecting campus speech that the Goldwater Institute has helped to put forward in Arizona. Considered as a whole, the model legislation that the Goldwater Institute and I have developed adds up to what is arguably the most comprehensive attempt ever made to protect campus freedom of speech.

For the most part, this plan draws on principles and provisions long offered by the most respected existing statements on campus free speech: Yale University’s Woodward Report of 1975, the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report of 1967, and the University of Chicago’s Stone Report of 2015.

On Tuesday, January 31 at noon, Jim Manley and Jonathan Butcher of the Goldwater Institute and I will present and explain this new, model legislation at a panel at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. Casey Mattox of Alliance Defending Freedom will also be a panelist. At the same time, the Goldwater Institute will publish a white paper outlining and explaining our legislative proposal.

I’ll have much more to say about all this once the proposal goes public. You can sign up to attend the Heritage panel, or to watch the event online, here.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He can be reached at comments.kurtz@nationalreview.com