Unfree Speech on Campus

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A new study shows too many colleges still behave like censors

Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky famously postulated that the test of a free society is the ability to express opinions in the town square without fear of reprisal. Most American colleges wouldn’t pass that test, according to a new report by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (Fire).

“The foundation reports that 55% of the 437 colleges it surveyed this year maintain ‘severely restrictive’ policies that ‘clearly and substantially prohibit protected speech.’ They include 61 private schools and 180 public colleges. Incredibly, this represents progress from Fire’s survey seven years ago when 75% of colleges maintained restrictive free speech codes.”

Perhaps the biggest breakthrough for First Amendment advocates this year was a Virginia law that bars “free-speech zones” on public campuses. As Fire explains, free-speech zones are a common tool that administrators use to restrict demonstrations to remote areas of campus. Colorado Mesa University shut_up_zip_it_t_shirts_tshirt-rf25624acd3ce42aa9ddf6f71a39d8dcb_804gy_324limits free speech to “the concrete patio adjacent to the west door of the University Center.”

“The University of West Alabama bans ‘cyberbullying,’ which can include sending ‘harsh text messages or emails.’ Would that include scathing evaluations that professors email to students?”

Such restrictions are unconstitutional, and many public colleges have lifted their quarantines after being threatened with lawsuits. In January a University of Hawaii administrator tried to stop students from handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution outside the campus’s free-speech zone. After students sued, the university revised its policies to allow free speech in “all areas generally available to students and the community.”

Meantime, campus speech police continue to stretch the bounds of what they prosecute under the banner of threats and intimidation. Read the rest of this entry »


Here Comes the Spoils Society

“To the victors belong the spoils”

— Senator William L. Marcy of New York, 1786-1857, arguing why victorious political parties deserve government jobs.

WASHINGTON — Robert Samuelson writes: We are, I fear, slowly moving from “the affluent society” toward a “spoils society.” In 1958, Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith published his best-seller, “The Affluent Society,” which profoundly influenced national thinking for decades. To the Great Depression’s survivors, post-World War II prosperity dazzled. Suburbia offered a quiet alternative to crowded and noisy cities. New technologies impressed — television, frozen foods, automatic washers and dryers. Never, it seemed, had so much been enjoyed by so many.

This explosive abundance, Galbraith argued, meant the country could afford both private wants and public needs. It could devote more to schools, roads, parks and pollution control. Economic growth became the holy grail of government policy. Production was paramount. It muted social conflict.

The “spoils society” reverses this logic. It de-emphasizes production and fuels conflict. Here’s why. Read the rest of this entry »