An Antidote to Conservative Gloom on Campus Free Speech


FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff is in National Review this week with a rather simple message for conservatives: There are actually a lot of things we can feel good about regarding the state of free expression on college campuses today.

The welfare of campus discourse is not perfect, of course, and its easy to sense that the issue is only getting worse–especially as free speech on campus gets no shortage of media exposure. The playing field has also changed in other fundamental ways. College students today are more aligned against free speech than they were ten or even five years ago, for reasons Greg and Jonathan Haidt expound on at length in their bestselling book The Coddling of the American Mind.

I’ve been at FIRE since 2008, and I can attest to those changes in the culture firsthand. I can also, however, attest to these meaningful changes FIRE has brought about nationally:

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. The problematic Department of Education regulations that began appearing in 2011 have been repealed or revised in recent years. And the issue of free speech on campus has gone from one that struggled mightily for public attention to one that is publicly discussed everywhere, from mainstream-media outlets to state and federal legislatures to campuses themselves. University presidents and top university lawyers now discuss the issue openly and, while dozens of colleges across the country have adopted a new and strong commitment to freedom of speech, often based on the “Chicago Statement.”

There is more that campuses and their leaders can and should do to protect free speech, and Greg outlines five objectives for them to fill (most basically: stop violating the law). For the full list, head over to National Review to read his full piece.

Published in Education
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  1. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio…

    Thank you for this update.

    My general impression is that college administrations have been shamed into reluctantly backing away from official speech restrictions, while maintaining their ideological rigidity, enforced informally by a combination of malicious “diversity and inclusion” administrators and an overwhelmingly Leftist faculty.

    It is difficult for me to believe that the increase in student opposition to free speech has nothing to do with the faculty.  I’m an outsider, but my impression is that a substantial minority of the typical faculty (perhaps 25-35% and growing) are radical Leftists, and that almost all of the rest are moderate Leftists who are either afraid to oppose the radicals, or go along with them out of greater dislike for Conservatives (or their caricature of Conservatives).  Thus, the faculty end up encouraging student radicalism.

    There is a possibility that the change in student attitudes is also related to the expansion of Leftist indoctrination into high school (and even earlier).  Do you have any information about this?

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