An op-ed in the Chicago Tribune today by University of Chicago Professor Charles Lipson makes a great case for the importance of freedom of speech and open discourse on university campuses. Citing recent controversies at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Brown University, Lipson provides an eloquent defense of the need to hear each others’ ideas and views rather than succumb to intolerance and censorship, as too many college students and others do these days.
American democracy is built upon free speech and free assembly, including the right to express views others might abhor. America’s universities should vigorously defend that essential freedom and pass it on to the next generation. If you disagree with someone, put up your own signs. Explain your own views. Say why others are wrong. [...] To see that value affirmed here in Chicago, just walk into the Tribune’s inspiring entryway. Col. Robert McCormick covered its walls with quotations defending free speech and its corollary, a free press. Those are bedrock values in a liberal democracy like ours.
With respect specifically to discussion and learning in the classroom, he adds:
The same intolerance seeps into classrooms, usually from activist professors who know exactly what’s right and insist you parrot their views. Students are wary, naturally, of disagreeing with the authorities who grade them, especially if those professors are rigid ideologues.
Yet good seminars thrive on thoughtful differences. If you disagree with a position, whether it’s the professor’s or another student’s, explain why and ask for a reasoned response. Universities should encourage this kind of discourse — and demand accountability from teachers who quash dissent.
These prescriptions are all music to FIRE’s ears. There’s much more in Lipson’s great op-ed, which you can check out at the Tribune. Our thanks to Professor Lipson for his thoughtful and well-written piece.