Over the summer, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff sat down for an interview with TheBestSchools.org, an independent organization dedicated to covering issues in higher education and empowering individuals with a wide variety of resources to make prudent decisions regarding career and educational opportunities. The interview covers Greg’s early influences motivating his work in the First Amendment and civil liberties, his inspiration for writing Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate and the book’s central themes, and how Greg sees the future of higher education.
Here is a preview of Greg’s interview:
TBS: We found your book, Unlearning Liberty, to be frankly inspiring. It not only documents a large number of astonishing abuses, it also models throughout what civility in public discourse ought to be—through its fairness, its scholarly care, and above all its calm and even tone, which is maintained throughout, even when rising occasionally to genuine eloquence. Could you start by telling us what your chief aim was in writing the book?
GL: Thank you for your kind words about the book! I knew writing a book would be a challenge, but it was even more challenging than I expected.
I wrote the book for a number of reasons. First, I wanted a place to gather and relay a sampling of the shocking cases of censorship and violations of basic rights on campus I’ve seen in my decade with FIRE. I needed one place to demonstrate the scope and scale of the problem and, even though I only cover a tiny percentage of the cases I have seen over the years, I don’t think any reader would say I was short on examples.
Second, I aimed to explain why this matters, not only on campus, but also in how it affects our entire society. And finally, I wrote the book to raise awareness about the issue of censorship on college campuses and about FIRE. The kind of cases we deal with on a daily basis at FIRE should be well known in every household in the United States, but, sadly, they are not. Unfortunately, these days the media pay too little attention to stories of censorship that would have been front-page news to an earlier generation.
This wide-ranging interview provides an incisive analysis of the origins and implications of the censorship movement in higher education and highlights a number of cases demonstrating ‘unlearning liberty’ in an engaging video format.
Check out the full interview here.
FIRE President Greg Lukianoff and a broad coalition of organizations, First Amendment experts, and civil libertarians sent an open letter to the Department of Education (ED) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) urging the retraction of the controversial “blueprint” for campus sexual harassment policies that threatens student and faculty rights.
Some of the impressive signatories include the Electronic Frontier Foundation, American Council of Trustees and Alumni, Goldwater Institute, National Coalition Against Censorship, Rutherford Institute, Students For Liberty, Student Press Law Center, Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance, professors Steven Pinker, Nadine Strossen, Cary Nelson, Michael McConnell, and journalists Nat Hentoff and Wendy Kaminer.
The open letter warns:
The blueprint mandates a shockingly broad definition of sexual harassment—“any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including “verbal conduct”—and rejects the inclusion of a “reasonable person” standard, endangering academic freedom and freedom of expression on campus. The blueprint also requires university employees to report protected speech for mandatory investigation, allows for punishment before the completion of an investigation, and instructs [universities] to keep records of the names of all students and faculty accused of “sexual harassment,” even if no wrongdoing is found.
The “blueprint” mandates a definition of harassment even more expansive than those that have plagued college campuses for decades. In Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, Greg details how these codes stifle speech, promote groupthink, and encourage self-censorship. This “blueprint” does that and more; it places an enormous administrative burden on universities, curbs academic freedom, and mandates vague conduct standards that the Supreme Court has already determined to be unconstitutional. In doing so, the “blueprint” magnifies the dangers presented in Unlearning Liberty—a scenario that is alarming for students, professors, and broader society.
View the open letter here and learn more about the dangers of the mandate by reading Greg’s Four Key Points About Free Speech and the Feds’ ‘Blueprint.’
Chronicle of Higher Education critic-at-large Carlin Romano praises FIRE President Greg Lukianoff’s book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, in a piece published in “The Chronicle Review” today. Romano writes that the book is “underappreciated” and provides a big-picture view of how American universities stifle speech in the name of comfort and preventing offense.
Reflecting on his classroom, Romano, professor of philosophy at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania, has seen the benefits of the kind of robust, uninhibited debate Lukianoff calls for in Unlearning Liberty:
Over the spring, listening to my students debate gay marriage, prostitution, polyamory, monogamy, loyalty, love at first sight, and enough fetishes to shock a stadium full of anxious parents, I came to understand something crucial: Allowing students to speak without fear, without concerns about being immediately sanctioned (as opposed to criticized) for a bad choice of words, or unpopular conviction, or dumb joke, provoked divergent voices and changed many minds.
The whole review can be read here.
Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate was selected for this week’s “Book Talk” feature on the American Constitution Society’s (ACS’) website. As part of the feature, Greg wrote an article detailing some of the most memorable cases he’s seen in his 11 years fighting against censorship on college campuses with FIRE, ranging from “the absurd to the serious.” He talks extensively about the Hayden Barnes case, which opens the book, as one of both the most absurd and the most serious examples of campus censorship run amok.
Greg also discusses why campus censorship is an important issue. In particular, he notes how students internalize bad intellectual habits as a result of campus policies that punish students for “offending” others in the course of debate. This trend threatens all of us, Greg argues, as these habits accompany graduates into the real world, where they are increasingly enclosing themselves in “cyber realms of like-mindedness” and ideologically homogenous neighborhoods.
Pay our friends over at ACS a visit and check out Greg’s article!
The Hoover Institution’s journal, Defining Ideas, offered a ringing endorsement of Greg’s book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, in a recent review:
His lively book is at once a relentless exposure of the intellectual intolerance institutionalized in higher education, and a passionate defense of the value of free thought and expression.
Defining Ideas reviews numerous examples from the book and concludes that universities are often not the “marketplace of ideas” they sometimes publicly claim to be.