Free speech dying on campuses, universities admit

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Free Speech Dying on Campuses, Universities Admit; Major New Gallup Survey From Student Affairs Officers Shows Just How Serious The Problem Is

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Institutions Recognize The Problem

WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 26, 2020) -Although some have tried to argue that free speech and academic freedom are still alive and well on college campuses, and that the outrageous violations reported in the media almost daily are mere aberrations compared to the great majority of institutions, a new Gallup survey shows that the institutions themselves recognize that they have very serious problems, notes public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

This just-released survey of student affairs officers - paid university officials whose primary responsibility is to deal with many student matters including free speech, and therefore in the best position to know what is really happening - provides frightening results.

Fewer than one third (29%) of those in the best positions to know agree that "students understand why free speech is important in academe."

This shows, says Banzhaf, that college professors are clearly failing in their role of educating students in this most important of constitutional rights, and the very right which is most often violated on campuses, often by students, but increasingly also by faculty.

Threats To Academic Freedom

According to the survey, only a bare majority (54%) believe that "those who interrupt, shout down or disrupt campus speakers represent a threat to academic freedom," while only a tiny minority (27%) agree that "colleges should punish those who disrupt campus speakers."

But most colleges and universities have written disciplinary rules which strictly prohibit students from protesting against a speaker in any which would disrupt his speech, and prescribe disciplinary action against those students who do.

So when almost half of those college officials charged with enforcing those rules don't understand, or at least don't agree, that shouting down or physically interrupting a controversial speaker is wrong and a violation of academic freedom, and the overwhelming majority believe that students who nevertheless do disrupt speakers should not be punished in any way - much less suspended or expelled - it's no wonder that such clear free speech violations not only continue to occur but seem even to be multiplying, observes Banzhaf.

A major tenant of academic freedom has always been the right of faculty members and student groups to invite speakers to come to campus, even if the speakers are known to express views which may be controversial.

Student Affairs Officers Believe Colleges Should Not Interfere with Free Speech

But fewer than half (37%) of these student affairs officers believe that colleges should not interfere with such invitations, so it is no surprise that increasingly their institutions are doing exactly that.

It should therefore also not be surprising if only a minority of those most in touch with student life (41%) believe that "my campus hosts speakers representing a range of viewpoints" - exactly what colleges and universities are supposed to do, argues Banzhaf.

And, when it comes to the expression of views on campus - which should hopefully be somewhat balanced - it is shocking that the colleges themselves admit that liberal academic and public figures are about 60% more likely to be treated with respect when they visit a campus than conservative ones.

One way to appreciate the seriousness of this problem is to substitute other major campus concerns - e.g. sexual assault and racial (or gender) discrimination - for free speech.

If, in a survey regarding campus sexual assaults, only 27% of those primarily responsible for representing their universities regarding this matter felt that violators should even be punished, or that white (or male) campus speakers were 60% more likely to be treated with respect than black (or female) ones, there would be hell to pay, claims Banzhaf.

But, he says, this survey shows definitively that exactly this kind of gross violations are occurring with regard to free speech on our campuses today, argues Banzhaf, who has repeatedly and often successfully fought against free speech violations on his own campus, even when his colleagues chose to do nothing.

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About the Author

JOHN F. BANZHAF
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D. Professor of Public Interest Law George Washington University Law School, FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor, Fellow, World Technology Network, Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) 2000 H Street, NW, Wash, DC 20052, USA (202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418 http://banzhaf.net/ jbanzhaf@law.gwu.edu

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