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Protecting Freedom of Speech on College Campuses

In a  recent post, I discussed the use of left wing institutions by the right.  Here I want to discuss a specific idea for promoting a so called right wing idea – protection of free speech on college campuses from violence and other disruption – by using the methods that the left has employed in the past.

A common problem on both public and private campuses is that violent and disruptive protesters prevent right wing (and other controversial) speakers from giving speeches and presentations on campuses.  In addition to preventing the events from being conducted in an orderly fashion, the threat of these protests sometimes causes schools either to cancel invitations or to refuse to allow invitations in the first place.  It is also a common perception, especially of those on the right, that school administrations are not sympathetic to these right wing groups and therefore do not punish or otherwise hold accountable the students who are responsible for these threats and disruptions.

How could Congress address this issue?  It is not hard to come up with a way – one that is modelled on the institutional mechanisms used by the Department of Education to enforce its understanding of Title IX.

Congress could pass legislation supported by the following findings: Free speech on college campuses has been undermined through violence, threats of violence, and the shouting down of speakers.  Such actions are inconsistent with the idea of a university and are often illegal under state law, but the universities have failed to sufficiently prosecute such actions or protect speakers.  Thus, it is necessary for the government to step in to protect such speech.

Congress could provide that any university receiving funds from the government has an obligation to protect freedom of speech on its campus.  Schools that receive federal funds have an obligation to have rules against infringements of freedom of speech through violence, threats of violence, and refusals to follow rules that allow speakers uninterrupted time to present their views.  Such schools shall undertake to enforce these rules in a diligent manner.  At a minimum, schools must take significant efforts to apprehend students who violate these rules, and must at the least record the names of the violators on their records.  Schools shall be obligated to suspend for at least one year students who have been determined to have violated the rules more than once.

Congress could also require that schools provide annual reports to the Department of Education providing information about the actions undertaken by the school, which events were improperly disrupted, which students were found to have violated the rules, and what penalties were imposed.  The Department could also be required to receive complaints from speakers whose presentations were disrupted.

Finally, and most importantly, Congress could require that the Department of Education take actions to deny federal funds to schools that violate these rules.

These rules would put enormous pressure on schools to start protecting freedom of speech on their campuses.  It would no doubt lead to significant resistance from schools, but the threat of a loss of government funds is significant.

I should say that I do not necessarily favor such an arrangement.  I don’t like a heavy handed federal government micromanaging institutions.  But that is what we have already, except it is generally controlled by the left.  If that is how our country is going to run, it is worth letting the other side know what its like to be on the receiving end of such heavy handedness.

Update: It appears that others are thinking about this problem.  See here for a discussion of model legislation for the states to address these concerns.

Reader Discussion

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on January 31, 2017 at 10:09:26 am

You are correct. It would be too intrusive and would simply mimic the tactics of the Left.

Simpler plan: Do not provide ANY loans to students not involved in STEM studies. Do we really need more social justice warrior wannabes funded by taxpayer dollars. Starbucks can fund their studies so that they may write proper messages on their cups of overpriced, horrible tasting coffee.

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gabe
on January 31, 2017 at 10:26:38 am

I like Mike's plan and don't think protecting constitutional rights is heavy handed. If you asked me it doesn't go far enough.

Limiting aid to STEM majors is a bad idea. You'll get more people going into STEM that aren't suited for such careers and the softer sciences (read easier) are already glutted. And it might encourage SJW takeover of those fields (major in LGBQ Physics!).

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boxty
on January 31, 2017 at 11:38:02 am

Except for one detail;

I doubt the SJW's have the intellectual horsepower to pass a "Physics for Poets" class. There are no "safe spaces" quantum mechanics.

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gabe
on January 31, 2017 at 12:09:08 pm

As I suggested earlier in my reply to Professor Lund on a somewhat different topic, since the legal authority under which many universities operate derives from state acts of incorporation, wouldn't it be both easier and also more constitutionally appropriate for state legislatures to act in this regard? After all, state legislatures that issue charters for public corporations retain a legal obligation to supervise public corporations.

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on January 31, 2017 at 12:56:58 pm

I share Rappaport’s opposition to infringements of freedom of speech through violence, threats of violence, and refusals to follow rules that allow speakers uninterrupted (but limited) time to present their views. That said:

1. I’ve encountered complaints about campus censorship that boil down to, “Students protested when they learned that the controversial speaker had been invited to campus—so the speaker cancelled the speech, or the student who issued the invitation withdrew it. Damn censorship!” Loss of nerve in the face of a reasonable fear of assault/battery is censorship, but loss of nerve in the face of public disapproval is not. As I argued on First Things, no one is entitled to another person's approval or esteem.

2. I have ambivalence about requiring the Department of Education take actions to deny federal funds to schools that violate these rules. I favor policy unbundling. Funds designed to promote classroom education should be given for classroom education. Funds designed to promote research should be given to promote research. Funds designed to promote free speech by visiting lecturers should be given to promote free speech by visiting lecturers. And we should strive to keep these things separate.

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nobody.really
on January 31, 2017 at 19:27:43 pm

"I see skies of Blue....Oh what a wonderful world" in which you must (or purport to) live.

One can get the impression that were it not for the cowardice of *unpopular* speakers, we would not have a controversy. Clearly, that is not the case as numerous assaults have taken place when the SJW guardians of the campus are awakened to their mighty task. Witness, the U of Washington in past week. The rest of our readers could add more names.

Would it also not be censorship when the College Administrators, whose salary in some instances is mandated by the Fed Dept of Ed (i.e., diversity coordinators, etc), decide that they must "protect" their delicate charges and rescind a speaking invitation or outright cancel the speaking engagement to prevent the weeping and wailing that would most certainly ensue were this vile and evil "speaker" be permitted to hold forth on campus?

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gabe
on January 31, 2017 at 19:31:26 pm

What the heck. I did not hit "post comment" - sumtink is amiss here, Hildy!

As for para #2: OK, keep funds separate BUT what do you do when a clear and consistent pattern of abuse / denigration of speech and alternative ideas / philosophies is present in the curriculum / grading, etc, etc?

It is regrettable choice - but perhaps, a funding cut sufficient to garner attention may be advisable.

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gabe
on January 31, 2017 at 19:36:36 pm

And while we are at it, here is another reason why Fed funding may need to be withheld from College Campuses wherein we find that a young lad accused of sexual misconduct may NOT question the "alleged" victim as it may traumatize her. (Gee, I did not check but Was this at a Law School, Ha!).

http://hotair.com/archives/2017/01/31/judge-student-expelled-for-sexual-misconduct-may-not-ask-accuser-to-testify-in-lawsuit-against-the-school-as-it-might-traumatize-her/

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gabe
on February 01, 2017 at 14:20:32 pm

Gabe--

I am opposed to any unnecessary expansion of Federal Government oversight, especially as in this instance the statutory authority under which many universities operate is not Federal. I am in favor of Federalism--these problems can and should be handled under state over sight and by state legislators.

What "nobody" writes strikes me as correct. The Federal Government gives money to universities for particular purposes. Federal oversight should focus on whether or not the funds so given are actually used for the designated purposes. Policy concerns incidental to those purposes should not enter the oversight process.

I think this makes sense because there already exist appropriate legislative bodies, located much closer to the actual people, which can handle the problem. As I see it, what we have here is a failure of state legislators to perform their duty to regulate the activities of the state public corporations they earlier created, by prior acts of state legislation.

Let us keep democratic processes as close to the people as possible. Let us exercise as much restraint as we can at the Federal level, precisely because once you expand Federal power, that power becomes potentially unconstrained, and can be used for ill as well as for good. I worry more about the potential for abuse, especially as other more constitutionally appropriate venues exist by which to achieve the desired ends.

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on February 02, 2017 at 11:53:17 am

I am all for Federalism. I look at the withdrawal of funds to colleges as the first step back to federalism. The Feds ought not to be involved in Education. I see it as a State matter. However, an immediate removal of Federal funding would be catastrophic. Let it be done gradually; let us hope that State and private support may be found for schools.

In the meantime, what are we to do when we witness the following (UC Berkeley):

http://townhall.com/tipsheet/justinholcomb/2017/02/01/dems-gone-wild-violent-protests-burn-down-parts-of-uc-berkley-n2280111

Perhaps, in some instances a more dramatic withdrawal of funding may be appropriate.

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gabe
on February 03, 2017 at 13:08:09 pm

I have ambivalence about requiring the Department of Education take actions to deny federal funds to schools that violate these rules. I favor policy unbundling. Funds designed to promote classroom education should be given for classroom education. Funds designed to promote research should be given to promote research. Funds designed to promote free speech by visiting lecturers should be given to promote free speech by visiting lecturers. And we should strive to keep these things separate.

After the University of California at Berkeley cancelled an appearance by controversial writer Milo Yiannopoulos, President Trump threatened Thursday to pull federal funding to the public university for not permitting free speech.

Here’s the thing: That’s not how federal funding to colleges works. Not at all....

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nobody.really
on February 22, 2017 at 18:26:20 pm

[…] school officials can stop you. As it is, it has become a common occurrence on campuses to prevent speakers associated with the right wing from giving speeches or presentations. As mentioned earlier, liberal intolerance is said to be on […]

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Is Diversity Working on College Campus? Part 1 - Diversity Jobs, Job Search Engine - Diversityworking.com

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.