The Corner


National Student Group Seeks To Bolster Campus Free Speech

Earlier this month, a professor at California State University, Fresno, berated the school’s Students for Life group, going so far as to scrub out chalk messages that were part of the club’s university-approved pro-life display. Fresno State students also tried to efface the display, and the professor insisted that free speech was only permitted in the “free speech” zone, which had in fact been eliminated by the school’s administration two years earlier.

Such incidents occur so frequently on college campuses these days that it’s easy for them to become white noise. When groups host conservative events on campus, they are most often greeted by protests, some of which have grown violent in recent months — like the debacles greeting Charles Murray and Ann Coulter at Middlebury College and UC–Berkeley respectively. And frequently, the colleges and universities involved acquiesce to student requests to shut down certain events with which they disagree. While groups such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the Alliance Defending Freedom have long track records of legally (and successfully) protecting students’ rights on campus, there has been little in the way of nationally coordinated free-speech movements bubbling up from students who have had enough of being shut down.

That changed just a few weeks ago, when 22 college students met at the University of Chicago, traveling from across the country, including from schools such as New York University, the University of Michigan, Princeton University, and Chicago’s own DePaul University and University of Chicago. At the event, students offered presentations about the state of free speech on their campuses.

One student, Michael Hout, traveled to the weekend-long conference from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is a junior. After being involved in Democratic politics in his home state of Georgia, Hout sat on the national council of College Democrats and served as the group’s chartering director, in charge of founding new chapters on campuses.

But after volunteering extensively in these capacities, he began to realize how strong his party’s tendency to smother free speech truly was, and he eventually decided to leave the Democrats and become a registered independent, believing that he could do more to reform the party from the outside than from within. Today, he describes himself as a classical liberal.

Fed up with the lack of respect for free speech on their campuses, Hout and his fellow 21 conference attendees drafted a statement of principles, in which they say that they are “united in our shared conviction that free expression is critical to our society, in spite of our differing backgrounds, perspectives, and ideologies.”

Emboldened by the gathering, they formed a new, wholly student-run organization — Students for Free Expression — through which they hope to foster campus atmospheres that permit and even celebrate free speech. So far, their statement has garnered nearly 1000 signatures, and it remains open for anyone to sign.

“We want to operate as the counterbalance on campuses, so that if there’s an issue, we’re on the ground,” Hout tells National Review in an interview. Though the exact contours of the group have yet to be set in stone, he imagines there will be some sort of education component to explain the value of free expression to fellow students, coupled with hosting events with FIRE speakers.

“We’re not looking to create another group to sponsor Milo [Yiannopoulos] or Ann Coulter. That’s not what this group is going to be,” he adds. “Not that there’s anything wrong with inviting those speakers. But we want to be a more modest group to be a watchdog for free-speech rights, even at private universities, where students still have natural rights and should be aware of them.”

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

The Problem with Certainty

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Including those of you having this read to you while you white-knuckle the steering wheel trying to get to wherever you’re going for the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Worst Cover-Up of All Time

President Donald Trump may be guilty of many things, but a cover-up in the Mueller probe isn’t one of them. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, attempting to appease forces in the Democratic party eager for impeachment, is accusing him of one, with all the familiar Watergate connotations. The charge is strange, ... Read More

Theresa May: A Political Obituary

On Friday, Theresa May, perhaps the worst Conservative prime minister in recent history, announced her resignation outside of number 10 Downing Street. She will step down effective June 7. “I have done my best,” she insisted. “I have done everything I can. . . . I believe it was right to persevere even ... Read More
PC Culture

TV Before PC

Affixing one’s glance to the rear-view mirror is usually as ill-advised as staring at one’s own reflection. Still, what a delight it was on Wednesday to see a fresh rendition of “Those Were the Days,” from All in the Family, a show I haven’t watched for nearly 40 years. This time it was Woody Harrelson ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Democrats’ Other Class War

There is a class war going on inside the Democratic party. Consider these two cris de couer: Writing in the New York Times under the headline “America’s Cities Are Unlivable — Blame Wealthy Liberals,” Farhad Manjoo argues that rich progressives have, through their political domination of cities such as ... Read More

The Deepfake of Nancy Pelosi

You’ve almost made it to a three-day weekend! Making the click-through worthwhile: A quick note about how National Review needs your help, concerns about “deepfakes” of Nancy Pelosi, one of the most cringe-inducing radio interviews of all time, some news about where to find me and the book in the near ... Read More
White House

For Democrats, the Party’s Over

If the Democrats are really tempted by impeachment, bring it on. Since the day after the 2016 election they have been threatening this, placing their chips on the Russian-collusion fantasy and then on the phantasmagoric charade of obstruction of justice. The attorney general accurately gave the ingredients of the ... Read More

America’s Best Defense Against Socialism

The United States of America has flummoxed socialists since the nineteenth century. Marx himself couldn’t quite understand why the most advanced economy in the world stubbornly refused to transition to socialism. Marxist theory predicts the immiseration of the proletariat and subsequent revolution from below. ... Read More