The 20th anniversary of another book dedicated to free inquiry was an opportune time for Greg to write in The Huffington Post about how Jonathan Rauch’s Kindly Inquisitors was instrumental in Greg’s own book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate. Greg recounts how what Rauch dubs the “Offendedness Sweeptakes” is a game we all inevitably lose:
Of the many side effects of this retreat from free speech that Rauch predicted 20 years ago, one was that if we privilege feelings over free speech and allow claims of offense to slow or stop meaningful discussion, people will naturally abuse this ultimate trump card. In the end, the societal bar for what is “offensive” will simply get lower and lower. This “offendedness sweepstakes,” as Rauch has called it, does not take long to produce terrible or, often, absurd results.
Greg goes on to show and provide examples how the “right not to be offended” carries devastating consequences not only on campus, but also around the world. Read the whole article here.
In a recent controversy at Dixie State University, a student group has been told that it may not use Greek letters in its name. Dixie State claims that restricting the expressive rights’ of its students is acceptable because the university has a “compelling interest” in avoiding a perception as a “party school.” Greg weighs in at the The Huffington Post today and explains how Dixie State is not alone in trampling students’ rights in attempts to undermine Greek life on campus:
Dixie State’s creative approach to keeping Greek organizations off campus is not surprising to those of us who work in student rights. Earlier this year, FIRE became involved at Trinity College in Connecticut after the administration instituted a new social code that requires opposite sex membership quotas for all campus groups and prohibits selective membership. Since most national fraternities and sororities are single-sex by charter and selective by nature, this effectively expels such organizations from campus. Trinity’s approach is one of the sneakier ways I’ve seen a college to try to placate former-Greek donors but at the same time undo the college’s Greek system. In contrast, Dixie State’s war on an entire ancient alphabet is remarkably direct.
Here is the whole story and here is a video of the controversy.
In The Huffington Post today, Greg highlights a recent article by fellow FIRE colleague Nico Perrino in The Guardian about the parallels between the NSA and the modern American campus:
One issue I did not heavily focus on [in Unlearning Liberty], however, is the issue of privacy on college campuses and how some campuses seem to be preparing a generation of students for life in a surveillance state. Thankfully, that topic has been excellently addressed by my colleague Nico Perrino in The Guardian today. In the column, Perrino covers the recent privacy outrage at Harvard University in which it became apparent that the administration accessed faculty emails after they realized an unflattering fact relating to a cheating scandal had been “leaked” to the press. He also points to shocking cases of surveillance involving Valdosta State University, Occidental College, St. Augustine College, and the University of Montana. In explaining all this, Perrino draws eerie parallels to the NSA and the growing culture of surveillance.
Greg points out this is just another example how modern college students are learning all the wrong lessons about what it means to live in a free society. Be sure to read Greg’s piece here and Perrino’s article here.
Colleges in the United States and the United Kingdom share many great similarities, but an unflattering commonality they share is a tendency to censor what they consider offensive ideas. Although students in the UK don’t enjoy the same First Amendment protections as US students do, the principles that make free speech so beneficial and practical are universal.
In response to six student union groups across the UK banning Robin Thicke’s hit song “Blurred Lines” this semester, Sam Dumitriu of The Mancunion, the UK’s largest student newspaper, recently interviewed Greg about Unlearning Liberty and his thoughts on colleges’ censoring potentially offensive material, like “Blurred Lines.” In the interview, Greg notes that,
“Being offended is what happens when you have your deepest beliefs challenged, if you make it through four years of university without having your deepest beliefs challenged, you should ask for your money back.”
Greg goes on to say that pro-censorship student unions would do well to remember this important point. Check out the full interview here.
Greg addresses the latest (and perhaps most outrageous) example of unlearning liberty in The Huffington Post today. A student at Modesto Junior College in California was forced to stop handing out Constitutions on campus—on Constitution Day! He was told by campus security officers and student life administrators that because of “time, place, and manner” restrictions, he must go “in front of the student center, in that little cement area over there” in order to pass out his materials. Greg writes:
Yes, it is true that campuses can impose what are known as “reasonable time, place, and manner” restrictions on speech. But under the law, these need to be reasonable, tied to the pedagogical interest of the college, narrowly tailored, and leave open ample avenues to engage in free speech. Modesto’s all-too-typical behavior here does not pass this test or conform with basic common sense. It almost seems like something Mark Twain would say; “This college is so daffy, I bet you they wouldn’t even let you pass out constitutions on Constitution day.” And amazingly, he would win that bet.
Check out the full article here and make sure to watch the video of the incident.