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Half of College Students Not Sure if Protecting Free Speech is Important

Half of College Students Not Sure if Protecting Free Speech is Important

“That’s not good news.”

Sadly, this isn’t surprising. Just look at what has happened on college campuses across the country over the last few years.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

Half of college students aren’t sure protecting free speech is important. That’s bad news

Last month, a small group of protesters at Lewis & Clark College law school tried to shut down visiting lecturer Christina Hoff Sommers, a libertarian feminist critical of feminist dogma on “rape culture,” the pay gap and other issues. They chanted, shouted, played loud music and sang, “We will fight for justice until Christina’s gone.”

Appalled commentators deplored the intolerance, but then came a spate of “nothing to see here” articles. Free speech on campus is doing fine, progressive pundits scoffed; it’s absurd to paint a few left-wing students as a danger to freedom when we face right-wing authoritarianism in government.

But it should be possible to be against more than one threat at a time. And the climate on college campuses in recent years is very much a threat to the principles of a free society…

Another supposedly reassuring poll, the Gallup-Knight Foundation survey, found that 70% of students felt it was more important for colleges to have “an open learning environment” with diverse viewpoints, even at the cost of allowing offensive speech, than to create a “positive” environment by censoring such expression.

And yet, when about 30% of college students favor censorship, it should be a cause for alarm — especially because that’s up from 22% two years ago. Moreover, 53% of students believe “promoting an inclusive society” is a higher priority than protecting free speech rights. Over a third say it is sometimes acceptable to shout a speaker down, and one in 10 approve of violent disruption. The last figure may seem small, but it means some 2 million collegians in the United States believe it can be OK to use violence to stop speech they don’t like. That’s not good news.


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Half of college students aren’t sure protecting free speech is important.

Half of college students aren’t sure protecting conservatives’ free speech is important.


It might be possible to do something about it, even if college admins won’t act decisively to curb this cultural-revolution rubbish. Schools could be rated for “free speech” just as they’re rated by other nearly arbitrary criteria to maintain certification for various things. But it has to be done by someone not easily bought—not a newspaper; perhaps some organization like FIRE. And it has to be in plain English—none of this game of disguising it under meaningless phrases like “open environment” or “diverse viewpoints”. Call it something straightforward and hard to screw up, like, say, “free speech”. This way a prospective student can see if a school has, say, a rating of 7 for free speech, but that’s down from last year’s rating of 8.5—a bad trend. The rating would be based on specific incidents such as mob shout-downs and similar obvious brownshirt activity.

Hey, if the Southern Poverty Law Center can rate groups and institutions by its own criteria, even if imaginary, then so can anybody.