The Senate finally had a hearing on campus free speech. It sucked

 (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Did you read much about the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on free speech the other week? No? Me neither. And it’s probably because it didn’t have any heavy hitters testifying at the hearing.

No offense to those who testified. After reading their remarks, it is clear they believe in free speech and diverse viewpoints. However, there are superstars in the free speech movement who have truly lived the persecution and have championed this fight for a long time. It’s a shame the Senate Judiciary Committee didn’t hear from them.

Who should have testified at “Free Speech 101: The Assault on the First Amendment on College Campuses”?

Probably not Zachary Wood, a rising Williams College senior who identifies as a liberal democrat.

And I could think of a better representative than Isaac Smith, an intern at a first amendment non-profit, whose main experience with censorship is related to an offensive t-shirt which perpetuated rape culture.

How about talking to students who have been ridiculed for ideas? Those who have been bullied by professors for their beliefs? Students who have been detained overnight for simply passing out the Constitution? There are hundreds who have been persecuted not just for their support of other ideas but their belief in other ideas — something far more personal.

The Senate also probably shouldn’t have relied on campus bureaucrats as expert witnesses, who all too often are intricately involved in stifling students’ rights to free speech. Fanta Aw, the Vice President of Campus Life at American University, told the Senate that a line must be drawn in the freedom of expression in cases that include threats of violence.

“When students fear for their safety, this affects their ability to study and participate fully in the life of the university,” Aw said at the hearing.  

Awe told USA TODAY College, “We need to figure out what can be some incentives for students to be able to not only learn, but to really appreciate the full breadth of what this could afford them…”

Yes, Awe said he still needs to figure out what can be done. Hardly an expert witness. Why not hear from professors and administrators who have lost tenure or promotions due to their political beliefs? Individuals who have a solution and are waiting to see the solution enacted.

Thankfully, there was one strong voice of reason at the hearing: Eugene Volokh, professor of law at the University of California-Los Angeles, who argued that there is no hate-speech exception to the First Amendment. He made clear that those who threaten to obstruct free speech must be punished, otherwise the behavior is rewarded.

“[W]hen thugs learn that all they need to do to suppress speech is threaten violence, then there will be more such threats,” Volokh said.

So again I’ll ask, who should have testified at “Free Speech 101: The Assault on the First Amendment on College Campuses”?

Perhaps torch bearers like Young America Foundation’s Grant Strobel, the College Republican’s Alex Smith, Young Americans for Liberty’s Cliff Maloney, or Trump Campaign’s Youth Director David Blair? Maybe advocates like the Leadership Institute’s Bryan Bernys or professors who have been under fire like Mike Adams, Stephen Kerhnar, or John McAdams?

While I’m glad the Senate held a hearing on free speech and I’m certainly glad Professor Volokh was there to set the record straight on the full extent of the first amendment, I am truly disappointed in the selection of representation.

If you want to learn about problems that span across American institutions of higher education, you have to look outside the DC Beltway.


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