Free speech on our college campuses is in the crossfire. Let’s find out where we are.
Identification of the issues involved and answers to them are as polarized as speech itself. The responsibility of educators to encourage free speech and thought is expansive in a public college environment. No longer are we burdened by the obligation to provide a sheltered existence which characterizes primary and secondary schools. Instead, the goal for us is to create a surrounding which is challenging and comprehensive.
Conservative commentators have said that college administrators and faculty members are more inclined to favor liberal attitudes and have created free speech areas and corresponding rules of expression to the disadvantage of competing viewpoints. They support the contention by reference to incidents in which controversial speakers have been disallowed on campus, theoretically to protect the learning environment from those who would be provocateurs.
There is no doubt that violent confrontations can and have occurred. In February 2017, Milo Yanopoulos was invited to speak at Berkley by the College Republicans. He was unable to continue his speech because the event was disrupted by violent protests. The school incurred over $100,000 in property damage. In March 2017, Charles Murray was invited to speak at Middlebury College. He is the author of “Bell Curve” which argued in part that the class structure in America is shaped by IQ rather than other factors such as education or socioeconomic status. After student disruption Murray had to be escorted to another room to finish his speech via live stream. He and a professor were physically assaulted outside. In August 2017, supporters of a rally at the University of Virginia marched across campus where they eventually clashed with counter-protesters at a Thomas Jefferson statue.
While safety is a legitimate concern you have learned that speech should not be favored or disfavored because of its content, nor should it be limited prematurely because of a fear of what might happen if it is allowed to occur.
As you have hopefully gathered from the most recent lecture, not all publicly held property is always accessible to all or for all purposes. Admissibility to public schools, is managed in a way so that the government can fulfill the purposes for which the property was set aside. That is what is referred to as the Public Forum Doctrine of the First Amendment [Forum Analysis].
One way that schools have sought to effectively manage speech on campus is to establish free speech zones. Frequently referred to as “free speech areas” a college can limit speech and expression by what we call “time, place, and manner restrictions.” Opponents however contend that the areas have not been set aside for students to express themselves, but rather to restrict speech in other parts of the campus, or limit it generally, leaving conventional thought unchallenged.
According to Dr. Jonathan Haidt, psychologist and author of “Coddling the American Mind,” students are increasingly seeking protection from what they don’t want to hear, and administrators are giving them what they want. He says that it’s a form of self-censorship in which students are “shamed, shunned, and excluded” if they voice an opinion outside normal orthodoxy. According to him it has reached a point where students fear their classmates more than their instructors. The answer, according to him, is not to overly protect students, but rather to expose them to differences of opinion. He is quick to point out that the incidents of violence, while dramatic, have been few in number.
Haidt’s position is endorsed by the conservative commentators mentioned earlier who claim that administrators have used the threat of disruption to exclude from campuses those who have different viewpoints.
The issue has not escaped the attention of the Supreme Court. On the last day of its most recent term the United States Supreme Court accepted for review the case of Uzuegbunam v Prezewski [Case No. 19-968]. The issues of the matter surround the constitutional right to free speech for students attending American colleges and universities.
The litigation grew out of a challenge to a public college’s policy limiting free expression in a designated free speech area. A student [Chike Uzuegbunam] sought to share his Christian faith at Georgia Gwinnett College and was told by officials that he had to get a permit and reserve time for the institution’s speech zone which consisted of a small patio and sidewalk.
When he did reserve the area, a student complained about his speech, and campus police cited him for disorderly conduct. He, and a second student who likewise said that his speech was chilled by the college’s policies, sued under the First Amendment. The suit sought an end to the policy and nominal damages.
While the case was pending the college dropped its speech code and amended the speech zone policy. In response to its actions it asked the court to throw out the complaint, saying that there was nothing further to litigate other than the request for $1 as nominal damage. That request was granted.
The United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta held that the matter had been resolved, and the appeal was therefore moot [of little or no practical meaning or value]. The students disagreed, saying that even though only nominal damages were sought, such cases are important in pursuing civil rights claims. They asked why the college action in altering its policy should deprive them of the right to a clear declaration that their constitutional rights were violated. Lawyers for the appellants maintained that without the opportunity to seek nominal damages educational institutions would be tempted to violate student rights with resulting impunity. They argued that the courts need to make it clear to colleges that they cannot violate the Constitution, and then merely amend their offensive policies after getting sued to avoid the consequences of their actions.
It is worthy of note that the Supreme Court has become more conservative with the recent addition of Justices Kavanaugh and Coney-Barrett,, and the agreement of the body to consider the case may have indicated a preference for the position that colleges should be a safe harbor for all points of view.
Where do you stand? Do you feel empowered to say how you feel, or are you fearful that what you say may offend and result in your being ostracized and devalued? How do we encourage the free expression which is the hallmark of public education in an environment which has become polarized to the point where at least some feel that they would prefer to opt-out of the dialogue? How do we encourage speech on college campuses, make it safe for all, and at the same time expose students, whether or not they are so inclined, to divergent views? How is Fresno City College performing? Do you feel that you have access to a full range of thought and feel safe in expressing yourself, or have you been limited by the selective values of your instructors and administrators?
your assignment is to submit an essay three quarters of a page addressing the questions posed.