It’s Time to Crush Campus Censorship

from – National Review – by David French

The courts have failed. The culture is failing. Unless Congress acts, we may lose not only free speech on college campuses, but free speech in America. In the memorable phrase of my friend, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education president Greg Lukianoff, college students are “unlearning liberty,” carrying the virus of censorship and oppression beyond the university and into the nation.

The courts are failing not because the underlying legal doctrines are flawed but because the remedies for censorship are completely inadequate. As of right now, there is a far greater financial incentive for a university to keep its sidewalks shoveled in the winter than to protect one of our nation’s founding liberties. If a student slips and breaks an arm, they stand to win much larger damages in court than a professor denied a promotion because of his speech or a student group thrown off campus merely because it’s Christian.

As it is, students and professors can launch exhausting legal cases, fight the university tooth-and-nail through years of depositions, motions, trials, and appeals, and at the end of the ordeal win an injunction and attorneys’ fees. In one memorable case, I fought a university for more than seven years and won a week-long jury trial, only for my client to be awarded a total (including attorneys’ fees) of far, far less than $1 million. Universities are some of the richest institutions in American life. These dollar amounts are utterly meaningless to their bottom lines.

It’s worth achieving individual justice in individual cases, but even the strongest precedent ends up providing only a minimal deterrent effect, especially when compared to the overwhelming cultural pressure for more censorship, more thought control, and less tolerance of even the most reasonable dissenting voices on campus.

The New York Times today published an op-ed that provided a public window into the kinds of free-speech arguments that dominate campus discourse. The piece, by Ulrich Baer, a vice provost at New York University, argues that restricting speech that “invalidate[s] the humanity of some people” is a “public good.”

It’s necessary to translate Left-speak to understand what it means to “invalidate the humanity of some people.” In real terms, it doesn’t mean belonging to the KKK, it means nothing more than merely disagreeing with racial and sexual identity politics. So, if you’re Heather Mac Donald and believe that radical anti-police rhetoric and actions from Black Lives Matters is actually costing black lives, then you’re (in the words of activists at Claremont Pomona college) questioning “the right of Black people to exist.” If you’re Charles Murray, and you’ve come to campus to discuss the class divisions that are causing America to “come apart,” a mob can and will shut you down.

Here’s Baer, with words that should chill every American heart:

The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community. Free-speech protections — not only but especially in universities, which aim to educate students in how to belong to various communities — should not mean that someone’s humanity, or their right to participate in political speech as political agents, can be freely attacked, demeaned or questioned.

In other words, campus radicals will let you speak only when they deem your speech is worthy. And if they don’t? Then, the mob isn’t a mob, it’s a collection of idealists “keeping watch over the soul of our republic.”

Enough. We cannot count on campus administrators to protect free speech. They’re so terrified of the radicals that they’re more prone to apologize for free speech, arguably our nation’s most essential liberty, than they are to defend it. Witness Berkeley bowing before the mob time and again. Witness the groveling apology from the chairman of Middlebury’s political-science department to the campus community. A mob attacked and wounded a member of the faculty, and this man actually said that his decision to offer a “symbolic department co-sponsorship” of the event at which that attack occurred contributed to a “feeling of voicelessness” that “many” allegedly experience on campus.

Their voices seemed plenty loud when they violently shut down Murray’s speech.

If we can’t count on courts or colleges to protect free speech, then it’s time for Congress to step up. There’s a remarkably simple solution to the problem of free speech, at least on public university campuses: Adjust the incentives. Make it costlier to censor than to protect the Constitution.

All it would take is a law holding that if a court of final jurisdiction finds that a public university has violated the constitutional rights of a student or faculty member, then the university will pay liquidated damages to the plaintiff in the amount of no less than $5 million. It will also forfeit 25 percent of its federal funding in that current fiscal year. If a university is a repeat offender at any point in the five years following, it will forfeit 100 percent of its federal funding in that fiscal year.

Here’s what will happen: Universities will respond with all the energy and fury of a person experiencing an electric shock. The rule of law will be restored, and our essential liberties will be protected anew.

Does all this sound draconian? It’s not. The primary task of any public official in the United States is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. It doesn’t matter how well you perform your secondary role, whether it’s governing a state, distributing drivers’ licenses, or even teaching biology — if you fail in the primary task of preserving our constitutional republic, you have no business calling yourself a public servant.

Furthermore, such a strong political statement in favor of free speech will have a potent cultural effect. Private universities that choose to maintain totalitarian enclaves will face powerful market pressures from more-free and less-expensive public universities, and the contrast between liberty and oppression will be made clear for all to see. (It’s worth noting, too, that private universities are not immune from civil law. Mob violence is just as unlawful on private property as it is on a public campus, and law enforcement cannot and must not stand aside when radicals riot.)

At public universities, campus censors have the freedom to speak, but they do not have the freedom to oppress. Constitutional protections are meaningless if the law can’t provide an adequate remedy for their infringement. It’s time to change the calculus. It’s time to crush campus censorship.

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4 years ago

There’s only one way to make an impact upon the leftist agenda on our campuses and that is by financial means. I agree that restricting alumni giving is one method but a much more powerful one is to withhold government funding. Working with congress is an important but slow option. This has been long in coming but it’s still shocking just the same. Hard to believe many of our young people are evolving into violent anarchists, devoid of any measure of social tolerance, except for their own. I keep wondering when they actually study, they are so busy with their politically correct propaganda, planning one protest after the next. What a waste of parental money. I think the parents should take a trip to Bora Bora and the kiddo should drop out of school, become homeless under the bridge and rub shoulders with our truly disenfranchised citizens. That might get their attention. Basically most are spoiled, self centered, immature, heartless and lack all social decorum. Tragic but I have no compassion for these whiners who are putting our nation in great jeopardy by their rantings and ravings. The professors should be thrown out en mass, except of course for Hillsdale College.

Serious Steve
4 years ago

This indoctrination of young people through our educational institutions should be challenged; they are defying others of their Constitutional Right to free speech, and claiming full rights to their own by their protests. The hard fact that the left is controlling education and media should be treated as TREASON.

Craig Granchi
4 years ago

I agree 100% with Junk Bin, I couldn’t have said it any better. Wait until these millennials get into the real world and there are no “safe places” except for maybe mommy’s basement. They’ll have to be quick learners or become a burden to society.

4 years ago

One thing to keep in mind is that the rules should be different for private colleges than for public ones. Private colleges should be allowed the right to limit certain types of speech on their campus. I work at a conservative Christian college, and I do not agree that we should be forced to allow speech that violates our religious beliefs and/or the language standards that we impose on our students (e.g., profanity not allowed). Private liberal colleges also have the right to limit speech in any way they wish. Sensible conservative will choose not to attend those colleges, and everybody should be happy.

Public colleges and universities are a different matter entirely. They are dependent on all Americans for financial support, and they are supposed to be for all Americans equally. Free speech should certainly be required there.

Rick from Maine
4 years ago

The 70s radicals who demanded their free speech, got it and are now denying freedom to any opposing thoughts. That is the way the left operates. “We shall destroy you from within” said Nikita Kruschev and the college administrators are the perpetrators using the students as “useful idiots”.

4 years ago

It seems that free speech is only free IF you agree with those who don’t agree with you. Would the conservatives run amok if a liberal came to the colleges to speak? Politically correct speech has gotten out of hand. We have four children and we do NOT always agree with their life style, speech, etc. but, we love them very much. We do NOT protest in front of their homes or become violent with them or they with us. Cannot Americans agree to disagree agreeably? What happened to the morals in this country? What happened to allowing others to believe differently than we do? If you are a Christian in America today, you are considered vile, freaky, unloving, and numerous other terms. Christ did not advocate violence against those who disagree with you. Instead He said to feed them, clothe them, house them, and love them. More could and should be said.

Daisey May
4 years ago

I have just learned that Gideon International is no longer allowed at Three River Community College in Norwich CT due to the religious affiliation. For years, Testaments have been distributed by Gideons one Testament at a time to all students. Now it appears the students cannot be exposed our LORD, JESUS CHRIST during their informative years. GOD have Mercy on us. Shame on us that this has been allowed by our elected officials who think of themselves.

Tax Slave
4 years ago

Pull their federal/state/local government funding immediately.

4 years ago

In Berkeley Ca. (Bizerkley) Cops are told to stand down and let the violence toward conservatives continue. I’m just wondering how long it’s going to take before we the conservative constitutionalists being downtrodden decide to fight back? I see a civil war coming if the useless law does not step in. Stopping these fascist pigs and ideology needs to happen sooner NOT later!!!

Junk Bin
4 years ago

the goal of the left to to eliminate all opposing forms of speech or communications. They want to also control the language.
how about this you liberal fascists, yes, you are the fascists, try and stop my speech and you will be able to speak after your jaw is unwired.
I placed my life on the line for the country and Constitution so violate constitutional rights at your own risk.
Old Veterans are not to be screwed with

Lyman F Gilbert Jr
4 years ago

I like this article. The ideas for a response to the campus political correctness, is a great start

Lincoln W. Sorensen
4 years ago

Lyman, you and Junk Bin are kinda book ends with a large empty space for content between. Like me, Junk Bin is a vet and wants to respond physically to any attack which effects him personally. That will make him feel better but change nothing other than his personal freedom. You “like this article” and think that will suffice your obligation for correction of the problem outlined in the article. Maybe if both of you could see your way clear to voice your position directly to the employee you voted to elect??? We the people do not have the media to speak for us. Therefore, we need to speak for ourselves, collectively in large numbers. The media and progressives do not want to hear from us. We are “flyovers”. That’s why pollsters do not contact us. We need to be motivated to keep our majority in house, senate and the White House. That is what should motivate us to be heard and also vote every time there is an election. Between elections, contact your elected employees and make them know what you expect of them.

4 years ago

Pollsters don’t include me anymore because I no longer answer those calls. I used to be inundated with polls & surveys. Now, when I hear poll numbers I assume that other people like me are not participating in them either and that the numbers are wrong.

4 years ago

It is going take more than Congress to stop what our schools have been doing. If we wait for Congress nothing will be done or get done. I am afraid that this situation we have in our schools is like the story about the frog in the pot of water the heat was turn up slowly the frog got so comfortable that when the water got to boiling ti was to late to jump out.
for the past 50 or 60 years, our schools have been, slowly taken over by the liberals and it will take twice that long if ever to straighten the mess out.

doc johnson
4 years ago
Reply to  Martin

Not if the alumni cease to support the schools.

4 years ago
Reply to  doc johnson

I have already stopped supporting those that are liberal. I hear of other alumni who withheld payment of money they pledged. If enough people do this they will be forced to pay attention.

Another way I think this will come back to them is because conservative students are avoiding the liberal schools. Traditionally, liberals are not known to provide the same level of charitable contributions as conservatives. I suspect that in the long run, their liberal graduates aren’t going to be funding the endowments.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x