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Survey: Students hate free speech, want to ban unorthodox opinions

(Victor Texcucano/The Daily Sentinel via AP)

(Victor Texcucano/The Daily Sentinel via AP)

The data and evidence continue to show that college students do not care for free speech, and it’s a threat to open academic discourse and society’s tolerance of unorthodox views.

To limit speech, 43 percent of students think that colleges “have the right to ban extreme speakers from campus” and another 71 percent think they “should prohibit racist/sexist speech on campus,” according to a survey from the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.

Rather than speech restrictions coming from close-minded conservatives, students on the left want to silence those they disagree with in the name of sensitivity and diversity.

That’s a dangerous threat to tolerance and open inquiry, but also a threat to the success of racial equality.

The trend has intensified in recent years. Banning extreme speakers has had more support since the early 2000s than between the 1960s to 1980s. Prohibiting racist or sexist speech has trended upwards since the early 1990s, too.

Protest and unrest has united, not to expand the latitude of what can be discussed in serious circles of academia, but to restrict what has become unacceptable to think. Given the dominance of liberals among college professors and students, that doesn’t bode well for conservative arguments or unorthodox liberals.

“While I support and admire students’ efforts to make the world a better place — I also kind of understand the right’s fear that student activism may be disparately used to muzzle conservative viewpoints,” Catherine Rampell wrote for The Washington Post.

“Whenever I write things that college students disagree with, I get a lot of email demanding retraction, recantation, apology, prostration. Some younger readers — not all that much younger than I, mind you — have accused my writing of ‘taking away’ both their voices and their agency, as if free speech were zero-sum,” she continued.

That ideological divide threatens the character of the university. If the divide becomes one against liberals, who want to limit speech and thought in the name of diversity and anti-racism, and conservatives, unorthodox liberals, and independents who value the protection of free thought, the debate will lose nuance. Free speech will gain the reputation of racism and hatred. No moral or decent person can defend freedom of thought because it means they don’t mind racism.

The battle over free speech isn’t new. The surge of political correctness on campus, and speech limitations, happened throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind discussed many of those issues when it was published in 1987.

What is new is the interconnectedness of college students. It’s easier to demand restrictions when national attention focuses on one college, and students calling for change copy successful tactics of others. Students have started to eat their own in the name of progress, sensitivity, and racial equality. If they continue this ritual feasting, the next generation will have no space to openly voice their opinions or opposition.

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