A new survey by Princetonians for Free Speech shows that roughly three-fourths of students believe that it is acceptable to shout down a speaker. The distressing results are consistent with other studies and surveys that have been discussed on this blog. Of course, some faculty maintain that it is better to “shoot down rather than shout down” conservatives.
Princeton has tried recently to reinforce free speech principles, but the survey shows these anti-free speech views have been reinforced continually in elementary and high schools. They were told by teachers that free speech is harmful and triggering.
That is evident in this survey:
This is a view actively supported by faculty. When Professor Josh Blackman was stopped from speaking about “the importance of free speech” at CUNY law school, CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek insisted that disrupting the speech on free speech was free speech. (Bilek later cancelled herself after using a controversial term in a meeting and resigned).
The lessons are taking hold with the rising generation of speech phobics and censors. A chilling poll was released by 2021 College Free Speech Rankings after questioning a huge body of 37,000 students at 159 top-ranked U.S. colleges and universities. It found that sixty-six percent of college students think shouting down a speaker to stop them from speaking is a legitimate form of free speech. Another 23 percent believe violence can be used to cancel a speech. That is roughly one out of four supporting violence.
Most schools expressly bar such disruptions, but few hold students accountable when they prevent others from speaking. A recent example can be found at Stanford Law School where the Law Dean denounced the cancelling of a federal appellate judge, but then said that no students would be sanctioned for their actions.
There is also the increasing justification of violence by the left on our campuses by declaring speech itself “violence.” It is part of the license of our age of rage for many who want to silence opposing viewpoints.
The view was evident recently as Hunter College professor Shellyne Rodríguez trashed a pro-life student display in New York. Most were focused on her profanity and vandalism, but there were familiar phrases that appeared in her diatribe to the clearly shocked students.
Before trashing the table, she told the students, “You’re not educating s–t […] This is f–king propaganda. What are you going to do, like, anti-trans next? This is bulls–t. This is violent. You’re triggering my students.”
The same week as the Rodríguez attack at the State University of New York at Albany, sociology professor Renee Overdyke shut down a pro-life display and then allegedly resisted arrest.
While the university has emphasized the need to support free speech, Princeton’s President, Christopher Eisgruber, sent a mixed message this year in his speech at the freshman orientation session focused on free expression. He warned that “opponents of diversity and inclusion are sometimes using outrageous speech to provoke a backlash.” He reportedly added that students should “do our best to avoid inappropriate backlash.”
Blaming conservatives for tensions is a curious way to call for speech tolerance. More importantly, students should not be told “to do our best to avoid inappropriate backlash.” They are required to avoid inappropriate backlash and, if they seek to bar others from speaking, they should be disciplined (including expulsion in the most serious or in repeated offenses).