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  • Writer's pictureCorey Lee Wilson

Universities should promote free speech, not silence it

“To the extent that the executive order asks colleges to do what they are either legally required to do—follow the First Amendment on public campuses, or follow their own promises on private campuses—we think that should be uncontroversial,” said Robert Shibley, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which advocates for freedom of speech on campus. “It will come down to how each agency decides to implement it, what the steps are they take to do that,” Shibley said. His organization and others, he said, will watch to see whether those agencies use clearly established First Amendment principles upheld by law or instead rely on their own interpretations. "Free inquiry is an essential feature of this nation's democracy, and it promotes learning, scientific discovery and economic prosperity," the order reads. "We must encourage institutions to appropriately account for this bedrock principle in their administration of student life and to avoid creating environments that stifle competing perspectives, thereby potentially impeding beneficial research and undermining learning." Discussing freedom of speech suppression throughout America’s colleges and campuses, New York Law School professor Nadine Strossen, a former president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), stated, “People wrongly believe they have a right not to be offended. This is not only faulty, but we as educators have a duty to be offensive in the sense of forcing people to rethink their fundamental assumptions. Diversity is cited as this mantra, yet we are killing ideological diversity, which is just as important.” Censorship used to come primarily from the top down but now is coming from students Samantha Harris, director of policy research at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), said censorship used to come primarily from the top down but now is coming from students. “Students increasingly seem to be arriving on campus believing that there is a generalized right not to be offended beyond the actual right to be free from harassment and threats, this amorphous right to emotional safety. It’s a troubling trend,” she said. At Amherst College, hundreds of students crammed into Robert Frost Library and demanded that students who had posted “Free Speech” and “All Lives Matter” posters go through “extensive training for racial and cultural competency” and possibly discipline. They wanted the administration to apologize for “our institutional agency of white supremacy,” among many other forms of discrimination like “heterosexist, cis-sexism, xenophobia, ableism, mental health stigma and classism.” The University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee declared that the phrase “politically correct” is a “microaggression.” The master of Yale’s Pierson College said that his title reminds students of slavery. A Washington State University professor said she would lower the grade of any student who uses the term “illegal immigrants” when referring to immigrants who are in the country illegally. Another Washington State professor, in her syllabus for “Women and Popular Culture,” noted that students risk “failure for the semester” if they use “derogatory/oppressive language” such as “referring to women/men as females or males.” The University of California system stipulated that “hostile” and “derogatory” thoughts include “I believe the most qualified person should get the job” and “America is the land of opportunity.”

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