Acton Institute Powerblog

Speech Codes Limit Campus Freedom

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In this week’s Acton commentary, I researched and wrote about the danger of speech codes and the limiting of free expression on college campuses. Like many conservatives in an academic atmosphere, I have also lived through the deceit and intimidation of out-of-control ideologues on campus. It has been an issue I have been extremely passionate about since I witnessed and spoke out against administrators trying to squelch free expression while in school myself.

An important reference, and recommended reading for anybody interested in this topic is The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses. The authors Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silversgate offer some essential comments:

What remain of the 60s on our campuses are its worst sides: intolerance of dissent from regnant political orthodoxy, the self-appointed power of self-designated “progressives” to set everyone else’s moral agenda, and saddest of all, the belief that universities not only may but should suspend the rights of some in order to transform students, the culture, and the nation according to their ideological vision and desire.

The authors later add:

The theory of “repressive tolerance,” or, more precisely, its practice of “progressive intolerance,” still governs the extracurricular lives of nearly all of our students. It is easy, however, to identify the vulnerabilities of the bearers of this worst and, at the time, most marginal legacy of the 60s: They loathe the society that they believe should support them generously in their authority over its offspring; they are detached from the values of individual liberty, legal equality, privacy, and the sanctity of conscience toward which Americans essentially are drawn; and, for both those reasons, they cannot bear the light of public scrutiny. Let the sunlight in.

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) offered a write up concerning my piece, and since they are the experts, it was nice to receive a positive endorsement from them. The research and action they have put forth on this issue is nothing short of remarkable.

It was an incident at my alma mater, Ole Miss, which ignited a free speech discussion on campus, that brought my attention back to this important issue. I explained in my commentary:

Just last month at the University of Mississippi, the campus newspaper The Daily Mississippian reported that the University Police interrupted a staged reading of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. It was suggested that the readings be moved to a free speech zone or what the university calls “speakers corners.” An English instructor named Griffith Brownlee replied by reading the First Amendment and saying “The whole country is a free speech zone.” Once the university found out it was a department-sanctioned event they called the whole affair “a misunderstanding.” As Brownlee herself pointed out in the article, one suspects the irony of attempting to limit the words of an author who wrote against totalitarian tactics was lost on some school officials.

Ray Nothstine Ray Nothstine is Associate Editor at the Acton Institute, and Managing Editor of Religion & Liberty. In 2005 Ray graduated with a Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from The University of Mississippi in Oxford. Before coming to Acton, Ray worked as a free-lance writer for several organizations, including the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He gained ministry experience in churches in Mississippi and Kentucky. After college, he also served on the staff of U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor (D-Miss) in Gulfport in 2001-02. The son of a retired Air Force pilot, Ray has also lived in Okinawa, Philadelphia, New England, Hawaii, and Egypt.

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