Last week, members of Congress held a hearing on campus free speech featuring panelists from across the political spectrum. All were in agreement—colleges are violating First Amendment rights, and it’s hurting students.
Rep. Jim Jordan, who chaired the hearing, said instead of exposing students to new ideas, colleges are increasingly trying to silence dissenting views.
“Today on many campuses, students and faculty are forced into self-censorship out of fear of triggering, violating a safe space, a microaggression or being targeted by the bias response team,” he observed.
Panelists agreed schools can’t—and shouldn’t—restrict the speech of students, professors, and invited guests. “Speech may never be censored just because we revile its ideas,” Nadine Strossen, the former head of the American Civil Liberties Union, argued.
Former Evergreen College provost Michael Zimmerman said “listening to a perspective that’s not your own, even if you disagree with that perspective,” is essential to a liberal arts education.
Frederick Lawrence, National Commissioner of the Anti-Defamation League, said universities shouldn’t try to protect students from speech they might find offensive. “The wise university administrator is not in the business of calling First Amendment balls and strikes,” he said.
But “calling First Amendment balls and strikes” is exactly what two regular speakers on campuses said administrators are doing.
Comedian Adam Carolla said there weren’t any attempts to silence him on a nationwide tour of campuses 15 years ago. But when he recently planned to do a show at Cal State Northridge with Dennis Prager, the administration tried to cancel the event.
Daily Wire editor Ben Shapiro pointed out universities consistently attempt to cancel his events or make it impossible for him to speak on campus. He said he regularly runs into what he calls a “heckler’s veto,” where angry protestors attempt to shut down an event, often with the tacit support of school administrators.
“What I’m seeing is people engaging in free speech that is not made to enrich the debate, but in order to shut down the debate,” he said.
At the end of the day, the panelists said, blocking speech on campus robs students of a quality education. “Education should teach students how to think, not what to think,” Zimmerman said. “When we shut out voices, we shut out ideas, and serious consequences ensue.”
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