by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
It is real progress that now when I bring up free speech on campus, very few people ever say, “I didn’t realize it was an issue.” Yet even though the issue is more prominent in public conversation than it’s ever been since the emergence of “political correctness” in the late ’80s and early ’90s, whenever I talk to conservatives, there is often a deep sense of pessimism about what can be done about campuses.
I understand why: The picture can seem quite bleak, particularly when it comes to viewpoint diversity. But given the notable progress that defenders of free speech both left and right have made on American campuses in recent years, the considerable distance we still have left to go, and the increased attention that can only help us traverse that distance, now is not the time to give in to defeatism.
Consider the major threats to free speech on campus that we at FIRE had on our radar as recently as 2011: The prevalence of campus speech codes, the Obama administration’s wrongheaded federal regulations, and the refusal of much of the media, the general public, politicians, and even universities themselves to take threats to free speech on campus seriously.
On all three fronts we have made tremendous progress. The percentage of colleges that maintain severely restrictive speech policies declined from 74.2 percent in 2009 to 28.5 percent in 2018.