ACTA Report: California Schools Do Not Promote a Free Exchange of Ideas

By June 11, 2012

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has just released a scathing report on "The Unfulfilled Promise of Public Higher Education in California," available online (in PDF). Its key message regards administrative bloat: 

[T]rustees have too often delegated their stewardship authority and sanctioned growing problems of waste, bloat and excess. Noting that the United States spends more on education per student than almost any country on earth, the report argues that many of California’s higher education problems stem from a misdirection of resources and calls on the trustees to get their own house in order before demanding higher tuitions and more taxpayer dollars.

A large section of the report uses FIRE data on speech codes in California to conclude, quite correctly, that in both the University of California and California State University systems, "schools are failing to protect legitimate expression and free speech and are actively discouraging a robust exchange of ideas." Indeed, as the report notes, universities in California are still defining much protected expression as "harassment." ACTA explains why this problem is so important: 

When faced with speech codes … students will hold back from expressing controversial opinions or making forceful arguments, worried that they might face administrative or disciplinary repercussions for constitutionally protected speech. 

Speech codes are not a simple matter of civility and sensitivity. They are of special concern to all of us in a democratic society that depends upon citizens evaluating multiple perspectives in order to determine what is in the country’s best interest.

Of course, developing that ability comes from a robust exchange of ideas—especially in the classroom—with assurance of professional responsibility and the maintenance of academic standards. 

As the intellectual health of a university is dependent on the free exchange of ideas and the freedom to explore any topic, schools must foster an atmosphere of free inquiry.

The report also calls on campus governing boards to "repeal speech codes … and insist that classrooms be rich in intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas." Head over to ACTA’s website to read the full report.