Free Speech for Some

By October 20, 2005

It’s been in the news a bit recently that the Inter-University Council of Ohio passed a free-speech resolution (warning: PDF). The resolution committed Ohio’s public universities to upholding the principles enunciated in the American Council on Education’s statement from this summer, analyzed by FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff here. Here is one take on the matter from Doug Pennington, a columnist for the University of Cincinnati’s student newspaper:
[T]he IUC passed a resolution on Oct. 11 confirming the following truisms: “Ohio’s four-year public universities are committed to valuing and respecting diversity of ideas, including respect for diverse political viewpoints. Neither students nor faculty should be evaluated on the basis of their political opinions.”
 
Except that not all “political opinions” are made equal, especially since modern conservatism has become synonymous with intolerance: it is anti-intellectual, counter-scientific, socially inept, recklessly interventionist and fiscally extravagant—even as it still defends discrimination against blacks, women and homosexuals.
 
College helps folks un-learn these toxic beliefs. It doesn’t teach that they’re of equal value to tolerance itself.
 
The liberal viewpoint is something to be defended, not compromised, which is probably why today’s conservatives feel so out of place on America’s college campuses.
Pennington really came out and said that conservatives are so nasty and evil that they ought not to be granted freedom of speech. Why? Because the purpose of going to college is to “un-learn these toxic beliefs.”
 
Unfortunately, what Pennington is saying here seems to be what many people on campus think but will not admit: that some ideas (the ones with which they disagree, of course) are so dangerous that they can’t be tolerated. The corollary of this, naturally, is that the mission of a university is not to be a marketplace of ideas, but rather to instill in its students a certain mentality.
 
But as FIRE cofounder Harvey Silverglate often points out, that Orwellian rewrite of the purpose of higher education will eventually come back to bite those who propound it. If you accept the idea that an education student who believes “white privilege” does not exist and a Muslim student who states his religious objection to homosexual activity can be punished, for example, what leg do you have to stand on when a student is not allowed to distribute pamphlets from PETA or a professor faces an inquisition for writing an essay that offends conservatives?
 
Answer: none, obviously, because you have surrendered the moral high ground in favor of political expediency. Which would be a laughable notion if so many of our universities (as shown by FIRE’s caseload) hadn’t already done just that.

Schools: University of Chicago