To fix a problem, one must first identify it. That’s the impetus behind a new webinar examining the culture around free speech at the University of California, Los Angeles. The top public university in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2024 college rankings, UCLA’s score in FIRE’s Free Speech Rankings is far less impressive: It lands at 169 of 248 schools.
The Jan. 24 webinar, co-hosted by FIRE and the Bruin Alumni in Defense of Free Speech, features UCLA alum and BADFS group leader Dominic Manser, UCLA law professor Rick Sander, FIRE Director of Engagement & Mobilization Connor Murnane, and FIRE Chief Research Advisor Sean Stevens. Through school-specific data and personal anecdotes, the panelists identify the factors behind UCLA’s low score and share ways to create a campus culture where learning and innovation triumph over speech suppression and self-censorship.
While the webinar digs into trends occurring at UCLA in particular, the same issues UCLA faces are occurring across the nation: increasing intolerance for unconventional views, rampant self-censorship, and administrators willing to cave to calls to cancel speakers and events. Sander, for example, recounts personally facing a university investigation, being discouraged from speaking on certain topics, and being told he could not record a Faculty Colloquium he initiated — all after publishing scholarship that cast doubt on the value of affirmative action policies.
Now, Sander, Manser, and a small but growing group of campus community members aim to change the status quo. They’re doing so, in part, through forming free speech advocacy groups like the Bruin Alumni in Defense of Free Speech, hosting events featuring speakers who will challenge student preconceptions, and encouraging alumni to leverage their connections with the university to support pro-free speech initiatives and reject censorial behavior.
“Universities should be about finding the truth and should be about rigorous debate,” said Manser. “What better place to explore new ideas than college? That’s what it’s all about, and that freedom should not be taken away.”
Watch the full conversation at the top of this blog.
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