The Institute of Politics at Harvard University has released a poll that once again highlights the failure of universities to protect free speech on our campuses, particularly for religious and conservative students. The poll found that only 35 percent of young Republicans felt comfortable sharing their political opinions on campus. That is called a “chilling effect” and is the manifestation of a hostile environment to free speech.
The poll of people between the ages of 18 and 29 showed that Democratic and liberal students feel far more comfortable in the environment of our universities. Both Democrats and independent student students polled at 54 percent and 51 percent in terms of their comfort levels in using free speech. In contrast, these same students felt largely comfortable in sharing their views with their parents off campus. The contrast is disturbing.
Notably, even with Democratic students, the comfort in sharing views on campus is low in my view. It shows that campuses are no longer viewed as bastions of free speech and tolerance for opposing views. The reason is clearly the failure of the faculty. We have been discussing the rising intolerance and violence on college campuses, particularly against conservative speakers. (Here and here and here and here). Berkeley has been the focus of much concern over mob rule on our campuses as violent protesters have succeeded in silencing speakers, even including a few speakers like an ACLU officials and James Comey. Both students and some faculty have maintained the position that they have a right to silence those with whom they disagree and even student newspapers have declared opposing speech to be outside of the protections of free speech. At another University of California campus, professors actually rallied around a professor who physically assaulted pro-life advocates and tore down their display. In the meantime, academics and deans have said that there is no free speech protection for offensive or “disingenuous” speech. Likewise, CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek has a different approach. When conservative law professor Josh Blackman was stopped from speaking about “the importance of free speech,” Bilek insisted that disrupting the speech on free speech was free speech. It reveals the twisted logic overtaking our schools on both tolerance and free speech.
As academics, we are failing our students and our institutions by allowing a rising level of intimidation and intolerance for opposing views on our campuses.