Sydney Kendall Says

Thinking in public about anything that matters.

Month: June 2013

Student Governments Against Free Speech

I’m still reading Greg Lukianoff’s book “Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate” .  Truly hair-raising.  (Lukianoff isan attorney and the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, aka FIRE.)

I’ve just finished the section called “Student Government Gone Wild”, about the shocking – but not surprising – tyrannical nature of many student governments at colleges across the USA.  I say that it’s not surprising because, after having read the previous 10 chapters of this book, I can’t imagine that a significant portion of the student body would not have learned how to be tyrants against non-PC points of view.

Here are a couple of excerpts from this chapter:

EXCERPT: “Something that should probably keep you up at night is the fact that student governments, which are often seen as training grounds for future politicians and lawmakers, harbor attitudes towards basic free speech and due process rights that are more akin to petty dictatorships than to the American Founding Fathers…”

EXCERPT: “At the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2009, students organized to get rid of copies of a conservative newspaper that mocked student government officials.  A UMass police officer stood by as angry students tore copies of the newspaper out of the hands of another student.  Rather than distance itself from this effort at censorship, the student government later passed a resolution in support of shutting down the newspaper if it did not apologize for mocking them.  The university eventually rejected the resolution to punish the paper, but only after FIRE stepped in.”

COMMENT: Since student government and student journalism are both rehearsals for real-world government and real-world journalism, the student government should be held to the strictest standards of respect  for freedom of speech and press.

We do not and should not legally punish regular newspapers for editorials mocking government officials.  University administrations should have the sense not to allow student governments to infringe on the right of the student press to mock the student government *or* to mock the university administration, for that matter.

That it took an organization like FIRE  to get the university to do the right thing should be troubling to everyone who understands the importance of freedom of the press.  This is not an isolated incident – the book is rich with examples of tyrannical breaches of freedom of speech and failures to uphold the individual rights of students in other areas as well.   FIRE is overwhelmed with cases that need defending.

I believe that college campuses are among the most important – if not the most important – places to take a stand for individual rights.  This is where young people should be learning about the principles and procedures that keep corruption and dictatorship at bay.  That’s why I’m bugging people to read Lukianoff’s book and – if they agree that it’s an important book – to blog it and Facebook it and tell their face-to-face friends about it.

I’ve been talking to people about the topic of the book, and it looks to me that a lot of people have no idea what’s been going on at colleges in regard to this most important aspect of our liberty.




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BOOK: Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate

I am currently reading “Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate” by Greg Lukianoff.

I have read numerous books and articles about the quelling of politically “incorrect” , i.e., conservative and libertarian, views at universities for many years now and the reports seem to be getting worse over time. But this book has a difference – while the other books and articles I’ve read on this topic were written by people on the “right”, this one is written by a fellow on the “left”, with plenty of lefty credentials, who is just as concerned about the destruction of intellectual debate and rational rigor as the writers on the right have been (for two or three decades now). He recognizes that universities are *supposed* to foster such debate in an atmosphere that does not punish challenges to the “PC” views, but rather encourages such challenges. He recognizes that freedom of speech is in dire danger and that both high school and university students have been and are being trained to accept a certain point of view without critical examination, and without an appreciation for the necessity of free discourse among thinkers of all points of view.

I am only on the second chapter and I already consider this book to be must reading for everyone. I mean EVERYONE – no matter what country you’re in, no matter what political alliegiance or religious views. High school kids, college kids, parents, grandparents, childless people and orphans – EVERYONE.

Even if people only read as far as I’ve read so far, it would be worthwhile. Even if the rest of the book turns out to be crap.

Here are a few excerpts (I had to type these out because you can’t copy and paste from a Kindle. So any type-os or spelling errors are mine.):

EXCERPT: “You can’t fully understand what lessons colleges are teaching students about living in a free society without knowing what students have learned before they even step foot on campus. The news isn’t good. By the time they graduate from high school, American students already harbor negative attitudes about free speech….”

EXCERPT: “…Lessons taught by example are most powerful, and high school administrators have offered students some of the worst examples of censorship…”

EXCERPT: “Take, for example, this quote from a high school principal explaining his decision to confiscate an edition of the student newspaper because of an editorial supporting marijuana legalization: ‘I feel like censorship is very important.’ He elaborated, ‘Court cases support school censorship of articles. And we feel like that’s necessary for us to censor editorials in the best interest of our program and community.’ I believe this statement reflects the opinion of many other high school administrators: not only may a high school censor opinions, but it *should* do so for reasons ranging from harmony, to patriotism, to convenience.”

EXCERPT: “With high school administrative censors claiming the high ground, it should be no surprise that the Knight study also found that high school students were far more likely than adults to think that citizens should not be allowed to express unpopular opinions and that government should have a role in approving newspaper stories. After all, if protecting everyone from hurt and difficulty of free speech is a laudable goal, shouldn’t the government be empowered to do that?”

“Meanwhile, there is precious little education in the philosophical principles that undergird our basic liberties, which might otherwise counteract these bad examples. Civics has not been stressed in high schools in recent years, and ignorance of the basics of American governance is widespread.”

EXCERPT: “So what’s the big deal? What’s really at stake? Everything.”


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