Where Has the Media Been? How Campus Censorship Never Went Away

 

I’m pleased to announce that the Cato Institute has just released my new essay, “Campus Free Speech Has Been in Trouble for a Long Time,” as the lead essay in its January 2016 issue of Cato Unbound.

Here’s a little info about Cato Unbound, in case you aren’t familiar with it:

Each month, Cato Unbound will present an essay on a big-picture topic by an important thinker. The ideas in that essay will then be tested by the comments and criticism of equally eminent thinkers, each of whom will respond to the month’s lead essay and then to one another. The idea is to create a hub for wide-ranging, open-ended conversation, where ideas will be advanced, challenged, and refined in public view.

My essay gives a brief overview of the history of campus free speech over the last few decades and examines the recent cases of speech suppression on college campuses that have captured the media’s attention:

Most people are familiar with the supposed heyday of political correctness of the 1980s and ’90s, but there is a popular misconception that speech codes and censorship were defeated in the courts of law and public opinion by the mid-’90s. In reality, the threats to campus speech never went away. Before examining what has changed to alarm the public—rightfully—about the state of open discourse in higher education, it’s important to note what hasn’t changed.

The essay is live now on Cato Unbound’s website.

Replies from law professors Eric Posner and Catherine J. Ross are to come, and discussion will follow through the end of the month.

There are 12 comments.

  1. The Reticulator Member

    Greg Lukianoff: Most people are familiar with the supposed heyday of political correctness of the 1980s and ’90s, but there is a popular misconception that speech codes and censorship were defeated in the courts of law and public opinion by the mid-’90s.

    This is the second time I’ve seen this notion that people thought it got better by the mid 90s. I have no idea where this “popular misconception” came from, or if it really existed. Is it based on polling data?

    • #1
    • January 4, 2016, at 5:32 PM PDT
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  2. Greg Lukianoff Contributor
    Greg Lukianoff Post author

    I don’t have a poll for it, but in my first, say, 8 years doing this (I’ve been at this 15) I ran into this misconception all the time. It was even surprisingly strong among my fellow First Amendment lawyers. And the book I cite is by Robert O’Neil one of the best known First Amendment lawyers and the former president of UVA. He wrote that in this book: http://www.iupress.indiana.edu/product_info.php?products_id=182219 which, as you can see, was dubbed “ . . . the most comprehensive and thorough examination of campus speech available today.”

    • #2
    • January 4, 2016, at 8:32 PM PDT
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  3. I Walton Member

    One should also listen to Epstein on affirmative action. He makes the libertarian point that these things should be dealt with by the Universities without any Federal input. They will sort it out. The civil rights act and the Federal offices that enforce it are the problem. Do any of our candidates have the courage to take on that monstrosity? Not likely, and yet it must be done. Perhaps leave the act but eliminate the office?

    • #3
    • January 5, 2016, at 5:32 AM PDT
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  4. James Gawron Thatcher

    Gregg,

    It is interesting how the Obama administration’s OCR has simply turned its back on Universities who abuse student and faculty free speech. The lack of clarity from the top has allowed a de facto situation of intimidation to fester. This de facto attack on free speech is often much worse than earlier clearly defined restrictive speech codes.

    The simple answer is we need an adult in the White House again. Until that happens, I’d call FIRE and call Saul.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #4
    • January 5, 2016, at 9:02 AM PDT
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  5. The Reticulator Member

    Greg Lukianoff:I don’t have a poll for it, but in my first, say, 8 years doing this (I’ve been at this 15) I ran into this misconception all the time. It was even surprisingly strong among my fellow First Amendment lawyers. And the book I cite is by Robert O’Neil one of the best known First Amendment lawyers and the former president of UVA. He wrote that in this book: http://www.iupress.indiana.edu/product_info.php?products_id=182219 which, as you can see, was dubbed “ . . . the most comprehensive and thorough examination of campus speech available today.”

    I was going to say that FIRE knows better, but I see that you are FIRE. That probably explains why your name sounded so familiar.

    That’s a good, informative essay, btw. It would be good to hear more from you here. Whether or not, I should follow your work more closely.

    • #5
    • January 5, 2016, at 9:34 AM PDT
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  6. Greg Lukianoff Contributor
    Greg Lukianoff Post author

    James Gawron:Gregg,

    It is interesting how the Obama administration’s OCR has simply turned its back on Universities who abuse student and faculty free speech. The lack of clarity from the top has allowed a de facto situation of intimidation to fester. This de facto attack on free speech is often much worse than earlier clearly defined restrictive speech codes.

    The simple answer is we need an adult in the White House again. Until that happens, I’d call FIRE and call Saul.

    Regards,

    Jim

    What’s interesting is several times last year Obama said some good things on campus free speech. Our response has been if he really means it he needs to rein in the Dept of Ed.

    • #6
    • January 5, 2016, at 10:36 AM PDT
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  7. James Gawron Thatcher

    Greg Lukianoff:

    James Gawron:Gregg,

    It is interesting how the Obama administration’s OCR has simply turned its back on Universities who abuse student and faculty free speech. The lack of clarity from the top has allowed a de facto situation of intimidation to fester. This de facto attack on free speech is often much worse than earlier clearly defined restrictive speech codes.

    The simple answer is we need an adult in the White House again. Until that happens, I’d call FIRE and call Saul.

    Regards,

    Jim

    What’s interesting is several times last year Obama said some good things on campus free speech. Our response has been if he really means it he needs to rein in the Dept of Ed.

    Gregg,

    Interesting but this President seems uniquely stubborn. When he doesn’t want to acknowledge something obviously wrong he will make a speech which sounds hopeful, then pivot 180 from it and go the other way.

    Just another day in Obama’s neighborhood.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #7
    • January 5, 2016, at 10:55 AM PDT
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  8. Misthiocracy secretly Member

    During the 1990s PC boom I don’t remember too many PC codes that were actively enforced by the schools themselves. That seems like a much more recent phenomenon.

    When I was in uni (class of ’97), I remember lots of PC pressure from student groups and professors, but not much in the way of actual regulation by the school itself.

    In fact, the lack of regulation seemed to be the primary complaint of the PC crowd.

    Maybe that’s just me.

    • #8
    • January 5, 2016, at 10:58 AM PDT
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  9. Greg Lukianoff Contributor
    Greg Lukianoff Post author

    Misthiocracy:During the 1990s PC boom I don’t remember too many PC codes that were actively enforced by the schools themselves. That seems like a much more recent phenomenon.

    When I was in uni (class of ’97), I remember lots of PC pressure from student groups and professors, but not much in the way of actual regulation by the school itself.

    In fact, the lack of regulation seemed to be the primary complaint of the PC crowd.

    Maybe that’s just me.

    In the case law there are a number of examples of speech codes being enforced in the early days of PC codes, but there was likely a decrease in attempts to enforce as defeat after defeat of speech codes piled up between 1989-1995. Because of FERPA it is hard to know how often they are enforced, but we have seen hundreds if not thousands of examples over the last 16 years (that link leads you to FIRE cases we have taken public but we get hundreds of requests–over 800 last year–for help each year, most of which do not result in public cases). Still we think speech codes are a serious problem even if they are not always enforced. We explained why here.

    • #9
    • January 5, 2016, at 11:46 AM PDT
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  10. The Reticulator Member

    Greg Lukianoff: What’s interesting is several times last year Obama said some good things on campus free speech. Our response has been if he really means it he needs to rein in the Dept of Ed.

    He frequently doesn’t mean what he says. For example, he said that if you like your health care plan, you can keep your plan.

    • #10
    • January 5, 2016, at 12:50 PM PDT
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  11. Oberndorf Member

    I actually went to college in the late 90s-early 200s at Northwestern, which has been front and center as something of a bad actor in this whole affair. While I was there, I didn’t notice a whole lot of PC nonsense. Living with a bunch of theater and music majors, including a fair number of open and overt homosexuals, there was a fair amount of gay jokes, rude comments, and the general sort of bad behavior one associates with 18-22 year old people, and even the gay people in question didn’t seem to have a problem with the discussions, so long as they weren’t deliberately rude. Even the stodgy, semi-left main student newspaper had an annual gag issue that teased the issue in a way that would result in an uproar today.

    So while I can’t speak to the before and after, at least by the late 90s the status quo seemed to be that so long as you were even halfway polite, nobody seemed to mind what you said. Definitely better than now, although I can’t say whether or not it was better than the 80s and early 90s.

    • #11
    • January 5, 2016, at 5:51 PM PDT
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  12. The Reticulator Member

    A question: Does FIRE ever work together with the Rutherford Institute? I was just now looking at some recent e-mails from Rutherford, and wondered if it was partly by hearing from them that I never got the idea that the assault on free speech had lessened. I don’t recall offhand any instances of Rutherford (John Whitehead) getting involved in university free speech – it seems to me that it takes up more cases involving K-12 schools. But I just got to thinking about possible overlap between the two.

    I think it’s a GOOD thing that there is more than one organization concerned about free speech. I am old enough to remember when the ACLU was one of these, except for cases involving religious freedom.

    • #12
    • January 5, 2016, at 11:20 PM PDT
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