‘Chronicle’ Review Praises ‘Unlearning Liberty,’ Criticizes Blueprint

By June 17, 2013

Chronicle of Higher Education critic-at-large Carlin Romano praises FIRE President Greg Lukianoff’s book Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate in a piece published in "The Chronicle Review" today. Romano writes that the book is "underappreciated" and provides a big-picture view of how American universities stifle speech in the name of comfort and preventing offense. As a professor of philosophy at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania, Romano has seen the benefits of the kind of robust, uninhibited debate Lukianoff calls for in his book: Over the spring, listening to my students debate gay marriage, prostitution, polyamory, monogamy, loyalty, love at first sight, and enough fetishes to shock a stadium full of anxious parents, I came to understand something crucial: Allowing students to speak without fear, without concerns about being immediately sanctioned (as opposed to criticized) for a bad choice of words, or unpopular conviction, or dumb joke, provoked divergent voices and changed many minds. But Romano worries that a recent federal speech code mandate will compromise his future ability to engage his students in controversial, often salacious, subjects. The mandate, which calls for colleges and universities across the country to define sexual harassment as "any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature," including "verbal conduct," risks defining any sexual expression as sexual harassment if someone subjectively finds it offensive. "The [federal] commissars think the healthiest campus sexual environments are those in which everyone—students, professors, staff—walks on eggshells," Romano writes. Romano calls for Lukianoff to continue to "monitor and confront" those in the federal government who would limit campus speech. He also reflects upon a note he received from a student in his spring class:  One of my students commented at the end of the term: "Thank you for making the class feel so safe for discussing these difficult subjects." I wish I could thank my government for encouraging the same feeling. To read Romano’s full piece, visit "The Chronicle Review".Want to know more about the ED/DOJ "blueprint"?  Check out FIRE’s Frequently Asked Questions here!