This article appeared in The Volokh Conspiracy.
In our final post, we wanted to cover some possible solutions to the problems Jonathan and Greg discuss in their book The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, and then expand to what readers can do to help protect free speech and academic freedom on campus.
Because the book is very concerned about parenting, resilience, and the mental well-being of students, our solutions section is both for parents of younger children and parents of the college-bound. Solutions include everything from promoting free range parenting and free play to advocating for a cultural expectation of a “gap year” between graduation from high school and college.
Focusing more on freedom of speech and academic freedom, here’s a short list of things that readers, whether current students, faculty, or alumni, can do to help:
- Push for your university to endorse the Chicago Statement. The goal of the statement drafted by the University of Chicago Committee on Freedom of Expression in 2015 is to “recommit the university to the principles of free, robust, and uninhibited debate.” So far, 45 institutions have adopted the statement. There’s a version in The Coddling of the American Mind, and also a version on FIRE’s site, that has been adapted and excerpted from the original institution-specific statement. Consider it a first draft for your faculty body, administration, or governing board looking to adopt its own version.
- Get your campus a “green light” speech code rating from FIRE. A “green light” institution is one where the campus policies do not seriously imperil speech. Since 2006, the number of institutions with “green light” policies has risen from seven to 42. For help on getting your institution to join that list, contact FIRE.
- Explain these concepts early and often. Ask administrators if your campus, in orientation and beyond, covers freedom of speech, academic freedom, and the deep philosophy behind the search for and formulation of knowledge. We can’t blame students for not defending free speech and academic freedom if nobody’s ever explained what they are and why they are important.
- Don’t contribute to the outrage cycle. This is one you can do from the comfort of your own home. When you see outrage mobs forming on either the right or the left, be a voice against the mob and oppose the firing of administrators, professors, or students for expressing their opinion even when their words personally offend you.
- Stand up for yourself. If you are a professor or a student who faces retaliation for expressing your opinion, don’t be afraid to speak out. For every case FIRE takes public, there are many more where the person involved (especially faculty members) thinks that keeping quiet is safer than fighting back. In our experience, however, professors and students who get public attention are much safer from retribution than those who try to fight quietly. Like any other wrongdoers, would-be censors tend to be on their best behavior once they’re being watched. FIRE can help.
Jonathan and Greg think of the solutions section as just the start of the discussion. We are intensely interested in programs that help protect freedom of speech, but also that encourage dialogue across lines of political difference. If you have ideas for solutions that can help parents, students, or society at large, please let Adam Goldstein know and he’ll share it with Greg and Jon. After all, part of the point of freedom of speech is that you never know where the next great idea is going to come from, so you’d better hear everyone out.
As we conclude our week posting on the Conspiracy, we want to once again thank Eugene for hosting us this week and giving us the opportunity to flesh out some of the legal aspects of our argument that were inappropriate for a book primarily about psychology and ancient wisdom. Greg would also like to thank all the people who made the book project possible, and in order to reach a bigger audience, Jon and Greg have published the entire content of the acknowledgments on our website thecoddling.com.
Thanks in particular to Greg’s chief researcher Pamela Paresky, the entire staff of FIRE, and to the board. Thanks also to all the people who volunteered to help us refine arguments (and discover new ones and new perspectives) on the many polarizing issues we discuss in the book. We are proud to announce that the book debuted at number 8 on The New York Times’ hardcover nonfiction best sellers list. We hope you will consider reading it and tell us what you think!