Pope Center: Why So Much Intolerance of Speech on College Campuses?
New attacks on free speech occur almost daily, so there is no question but that FIRE will have many colleges and universities to consider when it compiles its list of the worst schools of 2016.We have long pointed out that “diversity” initiatives, which often involve restricting speech, are a dandy way for administrators to expand their bureaucratic empires with more and more “diversity” bureaucrats. These bureaucrats, of course, have no commitment to robust debate and discussion, but are committed to making the campus comfortable for politically correct identity groups.
Why do we see such hostility to free speech on college campuses, though? Why the haste to silence or punish people just for having said something? Colleges have always been contentious places—remember the Vietnam era?—but things have dramatically changed in recent years.
One reason why is that mid-level university administrators now hold so much power to control speech and behavior through speech codes and anti-harassment policies. As GMU law professor Todd Zywicki explained in this article, those people seldom have any strong attachment to unfettered discussion, but do have a strong preference for a campus with as little turmoil as possible.
Another reason for the increasing hostility to free speech is that far more faculty members than in the past think that free speech is actually bad. Those people, found overwhelmingly in the humanities, social sciences, and especially all the rather new identity studies programs, see their mission as changing society far more than enlightening young minds and encouraging them to search for truth. For them, free speech that might cause students to question their deep beliefs is unwanted.
Finally, many students arrive on campus already dedicated to various social causes and are so certain of their righteousness that they regard anyone who disagrees as an evil person who deserves to be silenced. Instead of advocating academic freedom, they insist on “academic justice,” which means controlling what may be said on campus—as one Harvard student wanted.
Free speech won’t return to its vital position until our schools again teach students that the only civilized way to deal with people who disagree with you is through rational discourse, not through silencing or punishing them.
Add these bureaucrats to intolerant members of the faculty, and you have a really toxic brew.