Monday, September 18, 2017

College Students: Intolerant of Free Speech

From the (liberal) Brookings Institution, a national sample of college students on their attitudes toward free speech on campus.
College students’ views of the First Amendment are of profound importance for multiple reasons. First, colleges and universities are places where intellectual debate should flourish. That can only occur if campuses are places where viewpoint diversity is celebrated, and where the First Amendment is honored in practice and not only in theory. Second, what happens on campuses often foreshadows broader societal trends. Today’s college students are tomorrow’s attorneys, teachers, professors, policymakers, legislators, and judges. If, for example, a large fraction of college students believe, however incorrectly, that offensive speech is unprotected by the First Amendment, that view will inform the decisions they make as they move into positions of increasing authority later in their careers.
Clearly true.
To explore the critical issue of the First Amendment on college campuses, during the second half of August I conducted a national survey of 1,500 current undergraduate students at U.S. four-year colleges and universities. The survey population was geographically diverse, with respondents from 49 states and the District of Columbia.

The survey results establish with data what has been clear anecdotally to anyone who has been observing campus dynamics in recent years: Freedom of expression is deeply imperiled on U.S. campuses. In fact, despite protestations to the contrary (often with statements like “we fully support the First Amendment, but…), freedom of expression is clearly not, in practice, available on many campuses, including many public campuses that have First Amendment obligations.
How to the specifics:

First, a question asked:
Does the First Amendment protect “hate speech”?
Of course, the First Amendment does protect “hate speech,” even aside from the question of who has the right to decide what is “hate speech” which must be shut up. But less than half of college students believe that:

Another question asked:
A public university invites a very controversial speaker to an on-campus event. The speaker is known for making offensive and hurtful statements.

A student group opposed to the speaker disrupts the speech by loudly and repeatedly shouting so that the audience cannot hear the speaker. Do you agree or disagree that the student group’s actions are acceptable?

This tactic, quite simply, is fascist, yet a narrow majority of students agree it is acceptable.

Then, another question is asked about the “controversial speaker:”
A student group opposed to the speaker uses violence to prevent the speaker from speaking. Do you agree or disagree that the student group’s actions are acceptable?

It might seem nice that this is only a small minority, but as the author of the study notes, “Any number significantly above zero is concerning.” Indeed.

The survey asked one more question about a controversial speaker:
Consider an event, hosted at a public U.S. university by an on-campus organization, featuring a speaker known for making statements that many students consider to be offensive and hurtful. A student group opposed to the speaker issues a statement saying that, under the First Amendment, the on-campus organization hosting the event is legally required to ensure that the event includes not only the offensive speaker but also a speaker who presents an opposing view. What is your view on the student group’s statement?

While presenting alternative viewpoints is typically good, in practice the “controversial speaker” will always be the conservative one, and leftist speakers like communist Angela Davis (who spoke at Marquette) will be considered uncontroversial, and allowed to speak with no opposing viewpoint presented.

Further, this imposes on conservative groups the burden of booking at least two speakers for any event they wish to hold. To burden speech is to restrict speech.

How Does One View Education

Finally, students are given a choice between two educational philosophies:
If you had to choose one of the options below, which do you think it is more important for colleges to do?

Option 1: create a positive learning environment for all students by prohibiting certain speech or expression of viewpoints that are offensive or biased against certain groups of people

Option 2: create an open learning environment where students are exposed to all types of speech and viewpoints, even if it means allowing speech that is offensive or biased against certain groups of people?

Of course, one cannot discuss any serious issue without some viewpoints being considered “offensive” or “biased” by some group. Feminists are offended when anybody expresses opposition to abortion. A lot of blacks get “offended” by a discussion of out of wedlock births and dependency in the black community. Defending police against charges that they constantly gun down innocent blacks is offensive to the politically correct.

This notion gives politically correct groups a veto power over any ideas they dislike.


Of course, not every student who gives an intolerant answer will necessarily act intolerantly. Many are probably giving what they think is the “socially acceptable” answer. They wouldn’t shout down a speaker, and in fact wouldn’t care one way or the other that the speaker was on campus. But what does it mean that shutting up speech on a university campus is the socially acceptable response?

While the intolerance of many college faculties is well known, probably more attention needs to be paid to indoctrination in middle and high schools. How much is identity politics turning students into little social justice warriors who believe that “marginalized groups” have a right to be protected from any speech that offends their tender sensibilities.

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