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Colleges That Betray Core Principles Don’t Deserve More Public Aid

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at September 22, 2021

If your local library was sponsoring book burnings, you’d have some issues that would need to be addressed before you got around to boosting the budget. If your local sanitation workers were dumping trash into your driveway instead of picking it up, discussions of new funding would have to wait. Yet, even as college campuses across the land evince a growing hostility to free thought, the Biden administration and a Democratic Congress are racing to shovel untold billions of new dollars into higher education—without even pausing to acknowledge the problem.

And the problem is profound. The dismal state of campus free inquiry was cast into sharp relief this week by a compelling new survey of more than 37,000 students at more than 150 leading colleges and universities, conducted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), College Pulse, and RealClearEducation.

Most disturbingly, two-thirds of students say it is acceptable to shout down a speaker in order to prevent them from speaking on campus. And nearly one-fourth of students now support the use of violence to stop an objectionable campus speaker from being heard. At Wellesley College and Barnard College, two elite and extraordinarily expensive institutions, more than 40 percent of students said they’re comfortable with using violence to curb unwanted speech.

If higher education has a Hippocratic Oath, a counterpart to medicine’s “Do no harm,” it’s “Don’t stifle the exchange of ideas.” After all, that’s what colleges and universities are for—to be places where knowledge is acquired, shared, and stored. The fundamental purpose of higher education is compromised if campus leaders cease to embrace that mission. 

And yet only one-third of students say that their college administration makes it very clear that they’re committed to protecting campus free speech. Meanwhile, 81 percent of students reported self-censoring their viewpoints at their colleges at least some of the time, and one in five said they do so often. 

Of the 150-plus institutions surveyed, the five that fared worst when it came to campus speech were Boston College, Wake Forest University, Louisiana State University, Marquette University, and, at the very bottom, DePauw University. For any student who may be thinking about attending one of these schools, consider yourself forewarned.

Higher education needs to show the nation what it looks like to embrace and promote the civil, unfettered exchange of ideas. Too often today, it offers a very different kind of model. Whether the current malaise is a product of youthful ignorance, faculty agendas, or something else, it’s a threat to the very core of higher education. Currently, though, too many administrators seem content to serve as enablers to the worst impulses of the censorious mob.

As a first step on the road to improvement, we should table talk of grandiose new outlays for higher education until the institutions get their house in order by showing that they’re serious about diagnosing the problem and working to address it. That kind of clear expectation could have an enormously salutary effect on campus priorities and internal conversations.

Alumni, philanthropists, policymakers, and potential students also need to act accordingly. Just as it would be strange for patrons or grantmakers to blithely keep supporting a book-burning library as if nothing was going on, it’s time for alumni and donors to start more actively challenging campus leaders when they fail to uphold the banner of free inquiry.

FIRE has made it possible to check the state of campus speech at more than 150 major institutions via searchable Free Speech Rankings. It’s time to use them. If alumni, philanthropists, and public officials started telling campus officialdom that money won’t flow until they get their priorities right, and if students refuse to apply to universities that fail to protect their free speech, I think we might be pleasantly surprised at how much more seriously college leaders started to take that core mission.


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