Phi Beta Cons

How Bad Does a College Have to be to Make This List?

Free speech is rapidly giving way on many of our college campuses, shoved aside by students, administrators, and faculty who don’t want to suffer any speech that could be offensive. I recall being in college in the early 70s, when disagreeing with leftist beliefs would lead to heated arguments, but not to demands that you be silenced. How things have changed.

In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, I look at FIRE’s recent list of the ten worst colleges in America with regard to free speech last year. You’ll probably be surprised at some of the schools that made the list, especially if you think that free speech problems are mostly confined to big public universities.

An American who lived back before the federal government’s Great Leap Forward into college for everyone would be shocked to see how much hostility there is to free speech on campus these days. Colleges used to be places for learning and debate; trying to silence and/or punish people just for saying controversial, unpopular or even rude things would have been unthinkable. Why the sea change? I think it’s due to several things.

We have lots of students entering college who’ve been steeped in “social justice” theories so much that they regard anyone who disagrees as evil, thus deserving no consideration. Also, we have throngs of faculty members who think of themselves as “change agents” and can’t tolerate speech that might counter some of their advocacy. Finally, many administrators have no attachment to open inquiry and debate, but instead prefer a quiet, docile campus without the turmoil that free speech often brings. Therefore, they’re glad to stifle speech that might cause trouble — and the trouble-makers are all on the left.

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


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