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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Campus Free Speech

The Bipartisan Policy Center has a new report titled “Campus Free Expression: A New Roadmap.” From the executive summary:
  • First, colleges and universities must address the perceived tension that pits academic freedom and freedom of expression against diversity, equity, and inclusion in creating a respectful learning environment for all. While not ignoring that there may be expression that is hurtful, we believe profoundly that free expression is an essential means to an inclusive campus in addition to being essential to higher education’s academic and civic missions.
  • Second, colleges and universities should take steps to encourage more viewpoint diversity on campus. Exposing students to a wide range of perspectives and methods of confronting issues is essential for both a well-rounded education and as preparation for the rigors of citizenship in a diverse society.
  • Third, colleges and universities should adopt strong policies for the protection of free expression for students and faculty, to forestall hasty or ad hoc responses to controversial expression, and to defend the expression of unorthodox and controversial views.
  • Fourth, colleges and universities should elevate the skills and dispositions necessary to academic and civic discourse as a deliberate aim of the collegiate experience. Formal protections for free expression are necessary but insufficient to create a culture of free expression, open inquiry, and respectful, productive debate on campus and in our country. We have a national civic skills deficit, which colleges and universities have an essential role in remedying. Matriculating students typically need coaching and instruction in these skills and habits of mind, and our aim should be to graduate students who raise the bar for national discourse
Lori S. White, president of DePauw University and a member of the task force that met for a year to write the report, said during a panel discussion Tuesday about the report's release that she recently navigated her own campus speech controversy: she said that after a professor used the N-word in a classroom context, DePauw faced calls to ban the use of the N-word on campus.

White, who is Black, responded to these calls in a campus memo at once condemning the N-word as a “despicable and hateful word that has been used throughout history to dehumanize people who look like me.” At the same time, she wrote, banning the word “raises questions as to whether books such as John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ or Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ which I read as an English major, could still be assigned or whether a film class could watch a Dick Gregory film that I have watched many times or whether a music critique course or a student listening to music in their residence hall could listen to certain rap music artists.”
While most students think their professors adequately encourage diverse viewpoints in the classroom, don't want speakers disinvited from campus, and are comfortable sharing controversial opinions, 85 percent of liberals think professors who say something offensive should be reported to the university.

That's according to a new survey of student attitudes conducted by North Dakota State University's Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth. Many of the results were positive: Most students—both liberals and conservatives—said their professors create environments that allow for many different viewpoints to be shared. Large majorities also opposed the rejection of controversial speakers from campus.

In general, conservative respondents were more supportive of free speech norms—and also more fearful that they would be punished for speaking up—than liberal students. But on many questions, majorities of both groups responded the way a free speech supporter would.

Probably the most concerning result was that 70 percent of students—85 percent of liberals, 41 percent of conservatives, and 65 percent of those classified as "independent/apolitical"—wanted professors reported to the administration for making offensive statements. Most students also felt this way about other students who said offensive things.