On Tuesday, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff sat down for an interview with Ed Driscoll of PJ Media. They discussed Greg’s new book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate. Of particular interest to Ed was the state of speech codes on campus. Greg replied:
Well, FIRE has made some progress against speech codes over the years. But here’s what that progress means. When we first started doing our huge survey of speech codes across the country, we found that 75 percent of top universities maintain what we call red light speech codes. That means codes that either violate or would violate First Amendment standards. And after years of fighting this, five years later, we’re down to 63 percent of colleges maintaining red light speech codes.
And this is interesting, because there’s a popular myth that politically correct speech codes came into existence in the 1980s, with the height of political correctness. And since they were defeated consistently in court, and since they were laughed at in the court of public opinion, that these codes all sort of just faded away. And one of the things I really try to address in the book is that’s entirely wrong. Amazingly, even though they were defeated—and they are always defeated when they’re challenged in court—and even though the public right, left, and center—at least off campus—laughed at these codes at the time and said that they were outrageous, speech codes just kept on increasing for years afterwards.
Greg and Ed also explored what it means for students who are being systematically taught that there are negative consequences for speaking their mind and expressing their opinions. Greg continued:
You create an environment where the safest course of action is to keep your nose clean, talk to the students you already agree with, join the groups that are ideologically similar to you. Don’t disagree with professors who have strong opinions because they might punish you either in grading or just punish you. And that’s one of the reasons why, I think, you don’t see as many students being so outraged about what’s going on in campuses, because if you follow these simple rules, you can really avoid a lot of the trouble that we see at FIRE.
But there’s a problem with that. Talking to the people we already agree with is exactly what’s wrong with our entire society. And the one institution that could be helping make this problem better is higher education. But it can’t even come close to working towards that goal if you can get in trouble for having the wrong point of view.