Free Speech is Crucial to a College Education

June 11, 2014

By Katie Zehnder at The Blaze

Recently we have seen a surge of infringement on First Amendment rights take place on college campuses.

One example is when former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, declined an invitation from Rutgers University to give this year’s commencement address. Rice backed out due to students protesting the invitation, as reported by CNN.

The First Amendment rights of students and faculty at almost 60 percent of campuses in 2013 were infringed upon, according to an article published in January by the Wall Street Journal. Granted, this is an improvement from the 2007 survey when it was 75 percent.

It was in 2007 when the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) “produced its first comprehensive assessment of the state of free speech” on college campuses. The latest report from FIRE “shows how elusive the promise of open inquiry remains for most American students,” according to the Journal. After FIRE surveyed a total of 427 four-year colleges, both public and private, they found that 250 colleges, more than 50 percent, had speech policies which were unconstitutional.

These campuses policies could potentially censor any controversial viewpoint.

“Colleges ought to be beacons of free inquiry, but too many continue to punish politically incorrect speech,” said the Wall Street Journal.

A great example of this is Alabama Troy University, where the speech policies censor “any comments or conduct consisting of words or actions that are unwelcome or offensive to a person in relation to sex, race, age, religion, national origin, color, marital status, pregnancy, or disability or veteran’s status,” as reported by the Journal.

The Journal makes the important point that this policy is based on “an accuser’s subjective feeling.” This is a totally arbitrary standard.

The Journal points out that some schools, such as Texas Tech University, even purposely make it difficult for students to know what their school’s free speech policies are.

If it’s not clear what a school’s free speech policies are, then students will most likely students will not bother to do the research and find out, and will infringe on the policies out of sheer ignorance. Not only that but it insinuates that schools are purposely trying to infringe on students free speech, by intimidating them into not saying anything which might offend someone or be considered controversial.

This is extremely troubling because it shows that college students are being indoctrinated to believe that anything which might offend someone is not protected by the First Amendment.

College is supposed to be a time where you experience and encounter different ideas and viewpoints. You will and should encounter people and perspectives that you do not agree with.

“Not only does this censorship undermine the very ideal of a university as a place where even the most abhorrent ideas are aired and contested, but it projects a lowly view of students,” said Tom Slater as reported by the Daily Beast.

College classrooms are places where discussion of these ideas should take place not only amongst students, but between professor and students as well. You probably won’t agree with everyone’s opinion, and that’s okay, but these discussions expose you to ideas and perspectives you may not have previously considered.

Looking at an issue from another person’s perspective helps you to formulate your own perspective and opinion on the issue. We all come from different backgrounds, cultures, religions, and perspectives. This is why we read the works of various authorities on a topic when studying. Yes, we read them because they are considered to be authorities, but we don’t read just one, we read a variety of authors to give us various perspectives on an issue and help us to formulate our own opinion on the topic.

As someone who takes college classes online, I still participate in weekly group discussions via discussion boards. Whether we are analyzing a work of literature, or discussing a current political topic, it is interesting to note everyone’s perspective on our assigned topic.

As an English major I take a lot of literature classes, and it is fascinatting to realize how so many people can read the exact same work, and you can have so many different perspectives on it. It is always intriguing to read what someone else picked up on that you missed.

I have participated in some very lively discussions in the discussion boards and thoroughly enjoyed them. When participating, we somehow manage to act like mature adults, and remain respectful of another’s opinion even if we disagree with it, shocker I know.

Now it is much easier to respond disrespectfully, or act “offended” in an online discussion than it is in a face-to-face setting. So if we can remain respectful of others opinions in an online discussion, it shouldn’t be that hard for those in the classroom.

I have encountered one classmate in several of my classes whose political views almost are the opposite of mine. Yet we still manage to remain respectful of each other’s viewpoints in our discussions.

In real life, you are going to encounter lots of opinions that are different from yours and people are going to say a lot of things that might offend you. So, teaching students that “offensive speech,” which is completely arbitrary to begin with should not be protected speech, will in no way prepare these college students for the real world.

Freedom of speech is crucial on college campuses because it a crucial factor in formulating a good education. Not only that but it prepares us for life where we will regularly encounter, controversial opinions, offensive speech, and opinions which oppose our own.