Freedom of Speech on Modern Campuses

Trevor Klein

In modern America, freedom of speech is as poorly protected as ever. Countless freethinking individuals are shut down because of their differing opinions and beliefs.

This is by no means a partisan issue. While liberal institutions and activists tend to be the main perpetrators, conservatives and liberals alike agree that individual rights and the first amendment must be preserved. Additionally, there are certainly cases of conservatives shutting down liberals.

Earlier this year, protesters at Claremont McKenna College (CMC) shut down Heather MacDonald, a pro-police scholar, by blocking the entrance to her speech on campus.   

MacDonald spoke to an empty room and the event was live-streamed for the students that were not allowed to enter because of the protesters. The protesters were chanting so loudly that the Athenaeum, the forum on campus where MacDonald spoke, was shaking, which disrupted the live-streamed speech. CMC believed that the protesters’ behavior was inappropriate, and they were predominantly not students of CMC as they were mostly from nearby colleges and the neighboring community.   

Unfortunately, this is not a unique example as protesters are disrupting far too many speakers across America. People have the right to protest under the first amendment, but they do not have the right to restrict another individual’s right to freedom of speech.

On the other end of the political spectrum, Xavier Becerra, California Attorney General, spoke at Whittier College earlier this month. Becerra is a democrat and many conservatives hijacked the event by shouting insults at him from the audience. The disruption was very distracting and caused the event to end half an hour early.

Both of these infringements on freedom of speech are unacceptable, but they have become the norm on college campuses.

Aside from the students’, educational institutions limit freedom of speech by promoting “political correctness.”

In regard to politically correct culture on campuses, Former President Obama said in a speech to during a town hall on college education, “I don’t believe… students at colleges have to be coddled and protected from different points of view.”

Political correctness is a way to protect students’ feelings from getting hurt by offensive viewpoints. Last year, students at the University of Virginia (UVA) complained that Teresa A. Sullivan, President of UVA, offended them by quoting Thomas Jefferson, who founded the institution. The students demanded that Jefferson not be quoted in a positive vein in the future because he was a slaveholder.

Freedom of speech ‘safe spaces’ are often described as a way to have healthy dialogues regarding current issues. Unfortunately, what is considered ‘safe’ dialogue are viewpoints that are not considered offensive. On liberal campuses, ‘offensive’ is often synonymous with ‘conservative.’

Most schools focus on promoting all types of diversity, except for diversity of thought, which is the most important. If we all try to adhere to the intellectually fashionable ideas of the day, we will never make any progress. We need active debate for people to refine their views and relentlessly seek the truth, to ultimately make progress in the world.

By censoring one side, many colleges are doing everyone a disservice. Campuses, which used to be considered the epicenters of freedom of speech, are developing dangerous Orwellian leanings in regard to censorship.

Because of America’s freedom of speech crisis, organizations such as the Foundation for Rights in Individual Education (FIRE), fight tirelessly to protect students’ rights. FIRE is a nonpartisan organization that is totally committed to protecting the first amendment on campuses.

The beauty of FIRE is people of diverse political viewpoints are all fighting together for the first amendment. If students could recognize the common goal of freedom of speech, dialogues on campuses would be more productive as a result of students actually listening to each other instead of shouting to be heard.

FIRE also rates major colleges based on their freedom of speech reputations, which gives applicants an understanding of the school’s culture.

America’s long tradition of freedom of speech and the first amendment is part of what makes this country unique, and it is a shame to see American principles be given a backseat to political correctness and unruly protests.

I’m longing for the time when Voltaire’s saying, “I disagree with everything you say, but will defend to my death your right to say it,” will be the norm.


Write to Trevor Klein at [email protected]