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The State of Free Speech on College Campuses

What if you couldn’t speak your mind or express your opinion? What if you were punished for disagreeing with others around you? On college campuses across America, this is a reality.

The Big Picture

The right of freedom of speech, enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution, is vital to protect individualism and freedom. America is a country that protects God-given rights to think and speak freely. Colleges and universities, in particular, have historically been places where people could be exposed to new ideas, examine different philosophies, and learn to engage intelligently. Over the years, free speech on college campuses has been stripped away by tyrannical administrators and hyper-sensitive student activists. Professors and students are being targeted specifically for using their first amendment rights, when they express opinions that are outside what the mainstream narrative allows.

The Details

  • In 2021 alone, there were over 100 reports of college professors being targeted on campuses due to something they said, did, or posted online. Keep in mind this number reflects only what is reported.

  • Several guest speakers had lectures canceled because of unrelenting protests from students opposing the speaker’s political views.

  • Countless students across the nation have been targeted and punished for expressing their views or opinions. Some are politically motivated; others are just ridiculous.

  • At Virginia Tech, after a group of students booed and yelled at the referee for a bad call (one might say this is common behavior at American sporting events), an athletic director attempted to quiet them down. One student questioned her motives and called her a “glorified PE teacher.” Her hurt feelings led to the student being banned from all women’s soccer games and being found guilty of disorderly conduct by the school.

  • In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Point Park University sent out an email to students stating that “action could be taken” against any student who “misgenders” or misuses the preferred pronouns of another student.

  • In an attempt to start conversation and debate, a professor at Buffalo State University said she was “sick” of hearing about Black Lives Matter. Ironically, the comment was meant to demonstrate rhetoric that can get a person “canceled.” The professor, who supports the BLM movement, was investigated and threatened with termination because of the short video that was released of her lecture.

Action Taken

  • Legal organizations such as Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) represent scholars, defend free speech, and seek to change unconstitutional policies.

  • ADF filed a lawsuit against Kellogg Community College on behalf of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) after three students were arrested for passing out pocket constitutions on campus. The school told the students that they were in violation of a policy that requires students to ask for permission from the college before talking with other students about their organization.

  • A football player at the University of Central Florida (UCF) lost his scholarship and was removed from the team because of the traction and revenue he received from posting YouTube videos. Losing his scholarship forced him to withdraw from school. A lawsuit was filed to counter this infringement of his freedom of speech.

  • A Collin College professor was unjustly fired due to previous tweets attacking then-Vice President Mike Pence. The professor gained victory over the school in a lawsuit filed by FIRE on the professor’s behalf.

  • At Washington and Lee University, students were told by an administrator that they could not exhibit materials supporting political campaigns. After FIRE wrote to the university of the erroneousness of the situation, Washington and Lee altered their policy dealing with students and political stances to conform to the Constitution.

Why It Matters

Suppression of speech strikes at the heart of freedom. If you can't express dissent or complaint without repercussions, you live in a totalitarian state. Since 2015, the reported number of attacks on free speech on college campuses has increased each year. And in our current social and political climate, these numbers will continue to rise. Colleges and universities will eventually become dystopian shells of what they used to be. Conformity to mainstream ideologies and behaviors pushed on campuses today creates mindless robots trained to lash out at any sign of difference of opinion.

While the picture painted here is grim, there are institutions that remain committed to campus communities' freedom of expression. Colleges and universities were ranked in terms of which schools had the “freest” speech. At the University of Virginia, one of the higher-ranked universities, Republican lawmakers requested an investigation of a liberal politics professor for criticizing President Trump. In response, the university rejected the request for an investigation and stated that, “free expression and exchange of ideas is a core value.” Free speech got the win that day.

Expressing differing views should be supported, especially in an environment built for learning, educating, and exploring varying paths. It is a chance for students to expand their minds and their views. Whether Democrat, Republican, or somewhere in between, the concept of free speech should be protected, encouraged, and celebrated.