Students Must ‘Speak Their Minds’ so Free Speech is Culturally Ingrained at Penn, Professor Says

November 4, 2015

By Greg Piper at The College Fix

The University of Pennsylvania is great on paper for the protection of free expression.

It gets a rare “green light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) – the only school in the Ivy League with that honor – and even maintains a “committee on open expression” to keep an eye on potential infringements of speech on campus.

Yet the student body is under no obligation to keep an open mind toward their peers who disagree with them on contentious subjects.

The Daily Pennsylvanian reports on the cold shoulder that some Penn students, particularly those with less-than-left-wing beliefs, can get from peers who may have even liked them … before politics came up:

When Wharton junior Luis De Castro arrived at Penn, his freshman hall developed into a tight-knit group of friends. But when a handful of his hallmates found out that he was pro-life, their relationship took a “very distinct 180,” he said. …

De Castro, who identifies as a “moderate conservative” and is a member of the pro-life activist group Penn for Life, said that in his experience, students care more about what his views are than the reasoning behind them. …

“I think the biggest problem is that people aren’t exposed to points of view that disagree with them … If you have the impression that everyone at your school thinks you’re an evil person, you will not be comfortable,” he said.

Daily Pennsylvanian columnist Jeremiah Keenan carries the lonely torch for conservative ideas at the paper, and he says it has cost him:

He said he has often received pushback for expressing his views, such as an incident in which a girl refused to shake his hand.

“There are a lot of conservatives, more or less, who will stay underground at Penn,” Keenan said. “Because they’re not ready to pay that cost.”

Keenan explained that some career paths are already closed to him. Because of the opinion articles he has published online, he may not be able to get a tenured faculty position in a humanities or social science discipline.

No kidding. Probably the only reason the University of North Carolina-Wilmington’s Mike Adams got tenure was because he hadn’t converted to Christianity yet, and after he did (and made it known), the school started blatantly discriminating against him. It took him seven years, and litigation, to get a long-delayed promotion to full professor.

The culture of silence around unpopular ideas is precisely why students can’t stay silent, history professor Alan Kors, also a co-founder of FIRE, tells the Daily Pennsylvanian:

Kors added that he would love to see an increase in the number of debates and discussions on campus that address contentious issues. “I would just encourage, as strongly as I could, that students who are in any way frightened about speaking their minds on campus to speak their minds, knowing that the institutions of the University and that the administration itself will stand in support of their freedoms.”

Kors nails it when he notes the power that comes with believing you are in the majority.

It’s easy for liberal students to mock, spit on and shout down their ideological opponents if the latter seem to be few in number. Not many students want to bear the burden that columnist Keenan has chosen, likely to the detriment of his career, so they keep quiet.

Only by raising their voices – coming out of the closet, if you will – can students with unpopular views find power in numbers.

That power isn’t conditional on such students finding everyone who agrees with them on everything – it comes from the willingness of students to speak regardless of whether anyone agrees with them.

Only then will the true scope of ideological diversity be known, and students of all persuasions will realize that what they believed to be a “monoculture” (to quote law professor Stephanos Bibas) was an illusion created by self-enforced closeting.

Schools: University of Pennsylvania