Free Speech on Campus

Summary:

Free speech, freedom of association, viewpoint diversity, and open inquiry--these principles are essential to the educational mission of the university, and to the health of civil society.

RealClear's Free Speech on Campus page is designed to be the leading online forum where conversation on these critical issues can take place.

In 1974, Yale University published a document officially titled the Report on the Committee of Free Expression at Yale. Widely known as the Woodward Report, after its chairman C. Vann Woodward, it contained this unequivocal line:

“The history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable.”

This was not a new insight. Although he died 150 years before the American Revolution, Francis Bacon hit unerringly on the requirements of a genuine education: reading, writing, and debate. Today, however, college campuses in the United States and much of the western world are replacing debate with coerced conformity. 

The result is an environment that once would have been considered an anathema to the very purpose of higher education: Rigorous exchanges of competing ideas have been replaced by university speech codes, constricted speech zones, commencement speaker “disinvitations,” and “no-platforming,” which is university-speak for the heckler’s veto.

Some institutions are pushing back against this trend. As 2018 came to a close, 54 U.S. institutions of higher learning have signed the so-called “Chicago Statement” guaranteeing freedom of speech on campus. That leaves nearly 1,600 schools that haven’t, including, ironically, Yale.

A majority of college students, according to a seminal Brookings Institution survey, do not fully support the precepts of the First Amendment; and one-fifth of them believe it’s acceptable to use physical force to silence a speaker who is making “offensive and hurtful statements.”

These students are tomorrow’s judges, jurors, legislators, journalists, and teachers. Operating under the conviction that freedom of speech is essential to the educational mission of the university, and ultimately to the survival of civil society, this page is designed to provide a platform for conversation on this critical topic.

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