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Education Censorship Politics Your Rights Online

How Free Speech Died On Campus 530

theodp writes "The WSJ catches up with FIRE's Greg Lukianoff and his crusade to expose how universities have become the most authoritarian institutions in America. In Unlearning Liberty, Lukianoff notes that baby-boom Americans who remember the student protests of the 1960s tend to assume that U.S. colleges are still some of the freest places on earth. But that idealized university no longer exists. Today, university bureaucrats suppress debate with anti-harassment policies that function as de facto speech codes. FIRE maintains a database of such policies on its website. What they share, lifelong Democrat Lukianoff says, is a view of 'harassment' so broad and so removed from its legal definition that 'literally every student on campus is already guilty.'"
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How Free Speech Died On Campus

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @01:42PM (#42020135)

    That was a major issue at my University, StFX.

    The entire "community code" was so vague, you were in violation of something at any given time. They put fines on student accounts for violations, and don't release transcripts unless they're paid.

  • by Beetle B. ( 516615 ) <`beetle_b' `at' `'> on Sunday November 18, 2012 @01:45PM (#42020169)

    Most of the examples in the article have a pro-conservative leaning. So I went to their FIRE database and tried to find some cases where I knew universities tried blocking left-wing people from speaking. Not surprisingly, I didn't find at least the ones I was aware of.

    I think it's good someone is defending conservatives' right to speech. I simply feel they should be open about their partisanship.

  • Norfolk State: "The policy broadly prohibits using any university internet technology resources "to further personal views" or "religious or political causes." It also prohibits downloading or transmitting "inappropriate messages or images," without defining "inappropriate."

    Unfortunately, most universities don't have an explicit policy in place. If you're an undergraduate, rather than tell you they don't want opposing viewpoints, they'll just graduate you quickly with average marks. But if you're a graduate student? Your advisory commity will they'll revoke your funding (after the first year), your review committee will slow-walk your research, your lab-coordinator will have difficulty finding you space to work and - if you're lucky - you'll be forced to write massive changes into your thesis before you graduate. If you're not lucky? That's 3-5 years of study with no degree.

    Graduate studies costs 4-5x more than undergrad studies, and carry a stigma of "Well, you couldn't cut it there, why would we accept you here?".

  • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @01:52PM (#42020251) Journal

    I'm not surprised the Wall Street Journal allowed Mr. Lukianoff to mischaracterize the contents of Fordham's statement.
    Read it for yourself and see if it really matches the tone of WSJ's article : []

    November 9, 2012

    The College Republicans, a student club at Fordham University, has invited Ann Coulter to speak on campus on November 29. The event is funded through student activity fees and is not open to the public nor the media. Student groups are allowed, and encouraged, to invite speakers who represent diverse, and sometimes unpopular, points of view, in keeping with the canons of academic freedom. Accordingly, the University will not block the College Republicans from hosting their speaker of choice on campus.

    To say that I am disappointed with the judgment and maturity of the College Republicans, however, would be a tremendous understatement. There are many people who can speak to the conservative point of view with integrity and conviction, but Ms. Coulter is not among them. Her rhetoric is often hateful and needlessly provocative--more heat than light--and her message is aimed squarely at the darker side of our nature.

    As members of a Jesuit institution, we are called upon to deal with one another with civility and compassion, not to sling mud and impugn the motives of those with whom we disagree or to engage in racial or social stereotyping. In the wake of several bias incidents last spring, I told the University community that I hold out great contempt for anyone who would intentionally inflict pain on another human being because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or creed.

    "Disgust" was the word I used to sum up my feelings about those incidents. Hate speech, name-calling, and incivility are completely at odds with the Jesuit ideals that have always guided and animated Fordham.

    Still, to prohibit Ms. Coulter from speaking at Fordham would be to do greater violence to the academy, and to the Jesuit tradition of fearless and robust engagement. Preventing Ms. Coulter from speaking would counter one wrong with another. The old saw goes that the answer to bad speech is more speech. This is especially true at a university, and I fully expect our students, faculty, alumni, parents, and staff to voice their opposition, civilly and respectfully, and forcefully.

    The College Republicans have unwittingly provided Fordham with a test of its character: do we abandon our ideals in the face of repugnant speech and seek to stifle Ms. Coulter's (and the student organizers') opinions, or do we use her appearance as an opportunity to prove that our ideas are better and our faith in the academy--and one another--stronger? We have chosen the latter course, confident in our community, and in the power of decency and reason to overcome hatred and prejudice.

    Joseph M. McShane, S.J., President

    Compare and contrast with

    Mr. Lukianoff says that the Fordham-Coulter affair took campus censorship to a new level:
    "This was the longest, strongest condemnation of a speaker that I've ever seen in which a university president also tried to claim that he was defending freedom of speech."

    I guess in the print edition, the WSJ and Lukianoff can assume most people won't actually read the statement being attacked.

  • by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @01:53PM (#42020269) Journal is exercised by the students. In the sixties, freedom of expression on campus sometimes had a high cost. University administrations may have bowed to expediency in the seventies and eighties, but it does appear that the old shackles are back in place, although some of them have different names.

    Today's students can take back their freedom of expression, but will they have the guts to do so? Or will they continue to lament that "the man" doesn't allow them to say unpopular things?

  • by ninetyninebottles ( 2174630 ) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @02:03PM (#42020341)

    The fact is that free speech in America has been getting more and more curtailed. Some in a very overt manner (free speech zones). Some in a softer manner (How DARE you suggest that affirmative action is racist, you racist).

    You seem to have a misconception about what free speech is. Your first example is about restricting people to particular locations in order to prevent their speech from being heard... all good so far. Your second example, however, is about someone exercising their free speech to criticize someone else's speech. It is an example of free speech, not an example of free speech being restricted.

    Nice ad hominem. Instead of reading the source and arguing with the points made, you drool on yourself and blabber on about Murdoch.

    You make a good point that we should be judging articles on their merit, however, technically it was not an ad hominem. An ad hominem is the informal fallacy of claiming some argument is wrong based upon some characteristic of the person making the argument. The previous poster made no claim that the argument was wrong, but merely pointed out the untrustworthy nature of the publication and exposited on what they thought the content was likely to be. I highly encourage you to read a book on informal logic as it is a very useful tool/method and will help you not only argue with more precision, but refine your understanding of logically determining truths.

  • by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @02:26PM (#42020535) Homepage Journal

    Poor analogy. The students are paying customers, who have the right to free speech. These universities might as well publish the fact that they require their students to be politically correct, or they are unwanted on campus.

    Christian Bible colleges basically do that. If you're an atheist, a muslim, or maybe a wicca, Bob Jones University doesn't really want you studying on their campus.

  • by Bill_the_Engineer ( 772575 ) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @02:27PM (#42020543)

    I guess in the print edition, the WSJ and Lukianoff can assume most people won't actually read the statement being attacked.

    The conservative media doesn't report the news anymore. They take statements out of context and generate their own version of news. Weren't you here during the last election season? ;-)

  • by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @02:35PM (#42020615)

    I suspect that runs afoul of contract law.

  • by ninetyninebottles ( 2174630 ) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @02:37PM (#42020641)

    Forget political parties. Forget Democrat or Republican, or WSJ vs. NYT. If speech is being curtailed, that should concern you.

    You make a very good point. If free speech is being infringed by the government we should all be concerned, regardless of who brings that issue to our attention or if the act is being done by a specific political party. I think, however, you go a little too far in your equivocation. The trustworthiness of our sources of information are important and by excluding particular details or simply misrepresenting the facts an issue of speech not being subsidized by a specific organization can be misrepresented as that speech being censored, and make no mistake these are very different things.

    When you write, "WSJ vs. NYT" red flags go off in my mind. You're presenting not just publications favored by political parties, but one publication with a very solid history of integrity and factual presentation of information with a publication owned by a very deceptive corporation. The Newscorp organization is a big fan of free speech, insomuch as they went to court to defend their free speech rights to publish news stories they knew were untrue and to fire the reporters who refused to present them. And hey, they're correct. They do have the right to tell complete untruths to their viewers and readers. But at the same time their actions make it abhorrent to mention them in the same breath as the NYT and make me think anyone who believes anything they read in Newscorp publications is an uninformed idiot.

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @02:42PM (#42020695) Journal

    Your advisory commity will they'll revoke your funding (after the first year), your review committee will slow-walk your research, your lab-coordinator will have difficulty finding you space to work and - if you're lucky - you'll be forced to write massive changes into your thesis before you graduate. If you're not lucky? That's 3-5 years of study with no degree.

    This is true, I've seen this. But usually it's not because you are in the wrong party. In the cases I've seen, it's been some kind of weird personal vendetta.

    In one case I knew a physics student failed his oral exams because he was too confident. In another case, for a music degree, a professor didn't like the student because he didn't take enough notes in his class. The student complained to other professors, and the answer he got was, "Yeah, it's not fair, but we have to live and work with him, we don't have to deal with you, so we're not going to do anything about it."

    It's a lousy system, and it's as if professors feel they need to fail somebody, and if there isn't anyone bad enough to fail, they'll find some other reason to fail them.

  • "free speech zones" (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @02:48PM (#42020743) Homepage

    TFA focuses mainly on content-based restrictions, such as prohibiting people from quoting certain passages from the Koran. But along with these restrictions, many schools now have extremely onerous "time, place, and manner" regulations. Although these are written so as to be blind to the content of the speech, they're often absurdly restrictive. I teach at a community college in Fullerton, California, where last year the police murdered a mentally ill homeless man. This resulted in murder charges being brought by the DA, and a city council recall. I wanted to set up a card table on my school's grassy quad to collect signatures for the recall petition. I went through the process of registering officially, and the restrictions were just nuts. They have two very small patches of grass, over at the corner of the quad, which are marked on the map. I was forbidden from approaching people as they walked by. A lot of colleges refer to these tiny patches, apparently without any consciousness of irony, as free speech zones.

    As far as I can tell, the intention is simply to create conditions that make it absolutely impossible for students to stage anything like an actual political rally or protest. You simply wouldn't be able to fit more than about 10 human bodies into one of these free speech zones.

  • by Beetle B. ( 516615 ) <`beetle_b' `at' `'> on Sunday November 18, 2012 @02:49PM (#42020759)

    Somewhere like Liberty has goals, and a legal status, very different than those of a state university.

    The database contains both public and private universities.

  • by Sir_Sri ( 199544 ) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @02:55PM (#42020805)

    It's a lousy system, and it's as if professors feel they need to fail somebody, and if there isn't anyone bad enough to fail, they'll find some other reason to fail them.

    I had a prof who said 'I know what it takes to be a real physicist, and none of you have it' and failed the entire class.

    We were all asked to leave after appealing.

    Professors are high level employees, even though they seem relatively low in the university hierarchy they have a lot of independent authority and judgment, and the entire system is setup around professors being both professionally and ethically responsible to their discipline as a whole. If they don't think you've demonstrated the right behaviour they can be rid of you as a drain on that community, and as someone who would tarnish the universities reputation. The upshot of this is that professors can break all sorts of soft rules to get whomever they want as grad student, pay them past funding periods, run labs the way they want, run their own IT etc. But it also means the occasional asshole has quite a lot of authority to make your life miserable, and well, every department has at least one prof you just don't want to go near.

    I'm in Comp sci, and we have a prof who repeatedly insists (via e-mail) that we should cut off internet access to the department. The last place I was had a professor who's entire workload was teaching 2 courses (no committees, no research), and he liked to teach courses on whatever was 'cool' (as defined by his teenage daughter I guess), even if this had nothing to do with the broader programme goals. Getting rid of a tenured professor is really really hard, it's expensive, and usually they don't go completely crazy until they're towards the end of their careers, so you don't want to fire someone with health problems etc. There's a huge legal expense, and bad press. And students sometimes love the crazy ones because they are certainly interesting.

  • by gtall ( 79522 ) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @03:51PM (#42021277)

    Yep, but it is worse than that. Universities these days want to hire young stars that will essentially bring in enough money to pay their own salary and keep a phalanx of students. This makes the department look like they are on the cusp of whatever passes for research in their area.

    The emphasis is on "young" too. Age discrimination starts early in academia. If you aren't a star by 35, good luck. And if you get rejected for tenure at one place, expect the same at the next. Many professors only get to their really good research until their 50s when they've acquired a lot of experience and depth of thought.

    I wish I had a fix for this system, but I don't. Every time I think of something, I can argue why it wouldn't work or even make things worse. There does need to be some sort of oversight. But professors won't agree to any oversight unless it is by their peers...who probably find nothing wrong with any professors behavior.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @04:19PM (#42021503)

    Professors are hired on their ability to do research. Most professors spend 39 hours a week doing teaching, administrative duties at the university, applying for grants and service to the field (peer review, organizing conferences, etc.). So when do they do their research? Well, they find time for research by working more than 39 hours a week. If you think about that for a moment, you will realize that most professors do research exclusively in their free time, yet their research ability is what they were hired for. There are only two positions that sometimes actually are research positions at universities: PhD student and postdoc. Also, there are far more postdoc positions than there are professor positions. So you end up with a rarefied group of people who were selected for research ability, luck and ruthlessness in pursuing their goals, and then you task them to a job's capacity with administration and teaching without much oversight. I don't know how anyone can think that the result of that should be good for research, for students or for professors.

  • by shentino ( 1139071 ) <> on Sunday November 18, 2012 @04:27PM (#42021569)

    Nice thing about laws that make everyone guilty is that you get to selectively prosecute those you don't like.

  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @04:55PM (#42021763)
    Well, it is certainly easier to find a career in computer science than physics. CS is great because there is such a wide and forgiving spectrum of success - you could earn tenure at a prestigious university and then perhaps get hired into a top corporate research group for big bucks; you could end up at the other end of the scale doing boring business programming, but still make a decent living; or (most likely) somewhere in between, doing technical development on reasonably interesting projects at a big company, or carrying a heavy teaching load.

    In physics, it seems to me there is very little in the way of consolation prizes, at least within the field. (But in the end they always seem to do well enough outside their own field).

  • Re:Yeah! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by samoanbiscuit ( 1273176 ) on Monday November 19, 2012 @11:33AM (#42027175)
    How about I name a few names for you: Todd Akin, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum... A quick google search of some of their quotes will tell you immediately why women and gays vote for any party they are not a part of. Being treated like a human being should be something everyone can expect from a politician they're going to vote for. Blacks have voted democrat for ages, it's not a new development due to Obama being on the ticket. And Mitt "flip flop" Romney and his "wait till I get elected, I'll tell you my plans then" sell just didn't move many people who might have voted red. Better the devil you know and all that jazz.

Promising costs nothing, it's the delivering that kills you.