By Patrick Everson at Las Vegas Review-Journal
Colleges and universities are supposed to be marketplaces of ideas, but that’s less and less true today. While higher education systems champion diversity of race, ethnicity and sexual identity, they’re completely unconcerned with diversity of ideology.
Nothing highlighted that better than a story last week from The Cornell Daily Sun, an independent, student-run newspaper serving the Cornell University community.
Phoebe Keller and Emily Friedman reported that more than 96 percent of Cornell faculty donations to political candidates over the past four years went to Democrats. Out of 323 donors, only 15 gave to conservative causes, contributing about $16,000, while nearly $574,000 flowed to Democrats.
Keller and Friedman noted that in Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences, which includes government and history majors, a whopping 99 percent of the $183,644 donated went to liberal campaigns.
Cornell law professor William Jacobson, who runs the conservative blog Legal Insurrection, pointed out the obvious problem.
“Such homogeneity in thought process at the professorial level is not conducive to intellectual rigor,” he told the Daily Sun. “That harms liberal students more than anyone, because they have a comfort zone of political acceptance which does not exist in a real world. Over the years, I have observed that openly conservative students have to be better prepared for argument than their liberal counterparts, and that process prepares them for life better than being intellectually coddled.”
With less diversity of thought comes more Thought Police and less respect for freedom of speech. The university has become a haven of safe spaces, which are often much larger than the unconstitutional free-speech zones many campuses harbor.
News flash to college students: While you all have the right to speak your beliefs — particularly on public campuses that receive boatloads of state subsidies and federal dollars through grants and student loans — you do not have the right to never be offended. And to the institutions that don’t agree with that, well, at some point, you will get sued — probably by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education — and you will lose.
A case in point came practically right in our own backyard, at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah. With FIRE’s assistance, students William Jergins, Joey Gillespie and Forrest Gee filed a lawsuit against Dixie State in March, alleging free-speech rights violations when the school refused to approve fliers from their Young Americans for Liberty student group. School administrators said the fliers violated university policy by disparaging and mocking individuals — in this instance, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara.
Further, a university administrator said the group’s free-speech wall event had to take place in the school’s free-speech zone, which FIRE noted comprises all of 0.1 percent of campus.
Last month, Dixie State agreed to settle the lawsuit, with FIRE reporting on its website: “Dixie State agreed to revise the campus policies targeted by the lawsuit to meet First Amendment standards. These include the university’s unconstitutional flier approval process, posting policies, club event policies, and ‘free-speech zone’ policy. The university has also agreed to provide training to administrators about the campus’ new speech policies and pay $50,000 in damages and attorney’s fees.”
FIRE, which rates free speech protections at more than 400 colleges nationwide with a red-, yellow- and green-light system, now has seven such victories (and no losses) since launching its Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project last year.And with neither UNLV nor UNR enjoying a green-light rating — both finally improved to yellow this year, after years of red-light ratings — both institutions’ presidents and administrators would be well-served to avoid litigation by revamping their speech policies. Which is to say they shouldn’t have any at all.
And if a sure-bet loss in court isn’t enough motivation, perhaps the federal government should intervene and deny any grants or student loan funds to schools that aren’t working toward a full embrace of the Bill of Rights. Nothing like using the financial marketplace to make college administrators reacquaint themselves with the marketplace of ideas.