by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
George Leef’s latest Pope Center commentary focuses on American colleges with the worst records for protecting and promoting free speech.
Just how bad colleges have become when it comes to free speech and toleration for anyone who disagrees with those who hold power cannot be underestimated. Many Americans who think back fondly on their college days decades ago are shocked to learn the truth.
Toward that end, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has just released its Top Ten list—the worst colleges and universities in the country last year when it came to freedom of speech. …
… What we learn from these cases is that almost everyone affiliated with higher education these days must tread very carefully to avoid trouble with the people who feel empowered to control speech.
After looking at the schools that made FIRE’s rogues gallery, I’ll offer some thoughts on the reasons behind the collapse of support for free speech.
Top “honors” went to Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, recently thrown into turmoil by president Simon Newman’s firing of two faculty members who criticized his idea that the school should reduce its freshman class by “drowning some of the bunnies” (i.e., culling out academically weak students). Whether the president’s concept was good or bad, firing people for criticizing it is the worst way for an educational leader to react.
Second spot went to Northwestern University, where administrators put two prominent faculty members through ordeals because of “inappropriate” writings. Especially revealing was the treatment of professor Laura Kipnis after students complained that an essay she’d written made them feel uncomfortable. College students should learn to make counter-arguments when they disagree with someone, but Northwestern encourages them to file official complaints.
Louisiana State earned third place for firing a tenured education professor who had been on the faculty for 20 years. Her offense was occasional use of profanity, which university officials elevated to the status of “sexual harassment.” Ever since the Department of Education launched its crusade against any conduct even vaguely suggesting sexual harassment, everyone has to fear that a slip of the tongue or poor choice of words will lead to severe trouble.
University of California—San Diego made the list because administrators cut all funding for a satirical student paper, The Koala. Among other horrible infractions, the paper mocked the concept of “safe spaces” on campus. School administrators denounced the paper for “offensive and hurtful language.” These days, college officials have little tolerance for writing that hypersensitive students might find offensive.