Campus Free Speech Under Attack
American universities, once a hub for free expression and ideological debate, have now become places where everyone is encouraged to look different but think the same. Over the past two years, numerous conservative speakers and groups have had their events canceled because of administrators who disagree with the messages that are being promoted and because of students who react violently when their opinions are challenged. This problem has become so widespread that it has even been brought to the attention of the United States Justice Department. In a speech delivered on Sept. 26, Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke at Georgetown Law School and said: “free speech is under attack on college campuses.”
The Attorney General’s comments come on the heels of a major debacle at the University of California, Berkeley, where outspoken conservative commentator and provocateur Milo Yiannapolous planned to hold a four-day free speech event on campus. The event was ultimately canceled due to “security concerns” because officials feared a repeat of the last event that Yiannapolous held on campus in February 2016. That event at Berkeley was marred by violent protests in which a number of university faculty and students physically attacked people who were attending the event, and caused more than $100,000 in damage to the university and the city of Berkeley.
This trend is not unique to Berkeley. Countless reports in recent years of conservative students having their viewpoints silenced on campus and Michigan is no different. Two students of Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek were arrested when they attempted to hand out free copies of the U.S. Constitution. The two students were members of the conservative college group Young Americans for Liberty (YAF) and had attempted to get permission from the school to hand out the copies of the constitution, but they never heard back from administrators so they decided to do it anyway. The two students were taken into custody shortly after they began distributing the constitutions, and were held for seven hours before being charged with trespassing. The charges were dropped 10 days later.
It should be noted that conservatives have not taken this treatment laying down. Numerous lawsuits have been filed on behalf of conservative speakers and groups that have been mistreated by universities, which could potentially result in significant financial losses for affected university. Conservative students themselves have begun to fight back against the mistreatment taking place on campuses. The conservative student group Turning Point USA has even developed a Professor Watchlist, where students can report unprofessional or unbiased behavior of their professors.
Even some on the left have begun to realize that extremists in the party are taking things too far in regards to censoring their opponents. On his show ‘Real Time With Bill Maher’, the popular liberal commentator was discussing the recent issues at Berkeley and said: “But Berkeley, you know, used to be the cradle of free speech, and now it’s just the cradle for f—ing babies.” Speaking to S.E. Cupp, a conservative political commentator and guest on his show, Maher compared the situation at Berkeley to “the liberals’ version of book burning.” And then went on to say: “And I feel like this goes on all over the country on campuses,” Maher told Cupp. “They invite someone to speak who’s not exactly what liberals want to hear, and they want to shutter it. … And it’s got to stop.”
It is no secret that American universities are inherently left-leaning, but just because progressives hold the majority of power at these universities, it does not mean they simply get to silence any opinions or people that do not fall in line with liberal thinking. The intolerant political climate of college campuses today has an effect not only on free speech but also the educational experiences of conservative students. Survey results published by Heterodox Academy, an organization dedicated to promoting viewpoint diversity in higher education, showed that conservative students are much less likely to express their views in class than their liberal counterparts. When asked why many respondents claimed they felt like they would face negative repercussions for challenging the liberal viewpoints of their professors. Academia has the responsibility to protect the right of free speech. Your right to express your views does not change depending on who you vote for.