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Virginia Postrel Asks, ‘How Much Free Speech Will Your Child Have at College?’

By April 23, 2014

In a must-read piece for Bloomberg View, author, columnist, and FIRE Board of Directors member Virginia Postrel speaks to prospective college students and their parents about what they need to know before attending college. Postrel writes that while asking questions about a university’s social life and post-graduation job prospects is important, students and their parents need to inquire about their future school’s policies and practices toward free speech.

To that end, Postrel recommends asking such questions as “Does the campus host debates on controversial issues? If so, what are some recent topics?” and “Do you have a ‘free speech zone’?” As Postrel notes, it is critical that students examine the climate for free speech on campus, because the quality of their education depends on it:

The cumulative effect of even such apparently minor incidents is pernicious. Students learn to keep their heads down and express their views only when they are sure to have a friendly audience. The competition among ideas, on which education and the advancement of knowledge depends, withers.

[…]

Designating a limited “free speech zone” does much more than keep noisy demonstrations away from quiet study spaces. It’s a way of squelching spontaneous action or immediate responses to controversial news. Free speech zones, says FIRE president Greg Lukianoff, “teach students that speech should be contained by officials, controlled and feared, rather than celebrated, utilized and engaged.”

There’s much more to read in Postrel’s column, including her suggested questions regarding universities’ administrative bureaucracy and due process practices.

To read the whole piece, head over to Bloomberg View!