SACRAMENTO, Calif., June 18, 2012—A scathing report on “The Unfulfilled Promise of Public Higher Education in California” finds that California’s public university systems are failing to provide students with a robust education grounded in a free exchange of ideas. Using data from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) on speech codes in California, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) concludes not only that public universities in the state “are failing to protect legitimate expression and free speech” but also that they “are actively discouraging a robust exchange of ideas.”
“California’s public universities are teaching a whole generation of students to fear the vigorous exchange of ideas rather than to welcome it as part of their education in a free society,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “Campus speech codes and punishments of clearly protected speech tell students to keep their mouths shut about important or controversial issues, which is toxic to the very purpose of higher education.”
ACTA’s report, available online (in PDF), explains why this problem is so important:
When faced with speech codes … students will hold back from expressing controversial opinions or making forceful arguments, worried that they might face administrative or disciplinary repercussions for constitutionally protected speech.
Speech codes are not a simple matter of civility and sensitivity. They are of special concern to all of us in a democratic society that depends upon citizens evaluating multiple perspectives in order to determine what is in the country’s best interest.
As the intellectual health of a university is dependent on the free exchange of ideas and the freedom to explore any topic, schools must foster an atmosphere of free inquiry.
FIRE’s data show that out of all 32 universities in the University of California and California State University (CSU) systems, every single university has a speech code that restricts at least some free expression. Indeed, eighteen of them (56 percent)—including nearly two-thirds of CSU schools—have policies that clearly and substantially violate the free speech guarantees found in the First Amendment.
The report also describes findings regarding financial and administrative inefficiencies, as explained in a short video.
“Trustees and regents should insist that universities be rich in intellectual diversity and foster the free exchange of ideas,” said ACTA President Anne D. Neal. “These are fundamental principles of higher education.”
ACTA is an independent, nonprofit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America’s colleges and universities.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America are described at thefire.org.