On college campuses today, the right to express our opinions, no matter how inflammatory, is being selectively applied to promote certain ideas and exclude others. The notion of free speech for all has been replaced by the Orwellian notion of free speech for me but not for thee.
DePaul University’s faculty just passed a resolution reprimanding a colleague, philosophy professor Jason Hill, for writing an article strongly supporting Israel’s right to exist and condemning terrorism and the inveterate corruption of the Palestinian leadership. They claimed that these ideas were insensitive to members of the community and ran counter to the popular opinions of peers.
At Emory, the administration justified the dorm room posting of eviction flyers demonizing Israel by the hate group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) as protected by “free speech.”
Williams College’s student government refused to recognize the pro-Israel student club Williams Initiative for Israel (WIFI) despite its compliance with all relevant student organization bylaws. WIFI is the first club in over a decade at Williams to be denied funding and other club privileges. This is a violation of Williams’s own Code of Conduct, which supports the expression of “all ranges of opinion and belief.” At the same time, SJP has long been a recognized Williams student club and promotes the boycott of Israel with the goal of eliminating it in its entirety.
Middlebury College last month cancelled a speech on totalitarianism by a renowned scholar of classical political philosophy, former Polish Secretary of State Ryszard Legutko, because he was deemed a “credible threat to the community.”
The student government at Trinity College recently denied recognition to the Churchill Club, formed to support discussions on themes underpinning Western civilization. This followed complaints from students of color that the club supports white supremacy and ethnocentricity. Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney reversed this ruling — not as a freedom of speech matter, but on procedural grounds. Paradoxically, Berger-Sweeney used free speech to defend Trinity Professor Johnny Williams's tweet that “whiteness is terrorism,” which had received national notoriety.
These are just a few examples of a shamefully blatant double standard that exists on campuses across our nation. This weaponization of free speech serves specific political, social, and cultural ends, harshly ostracizing conflicting perspectives.
We live in a time of trigger warnings, microagressions, speech codes, and safe spaces where oftentimes only “acceptable” ideas are permitted. “Diversity” and “inclusiveness” are campus buzzwords referencing the embrace of people differing in race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, and culture, but limiting differing perspectives. Opinions straying from social justice dogma and anti-Western orthodoxy are considered unreasonable, malevolent hate speech that will not be tolerated.
Recent surveys found that students, faculty and administrators demand censorship of and punishment for what they deem controversial or offensive speech. Fifty-three percent of college students surveyed believed that diversity and inclusion were more important than free speech rights, 64% felt the U.S. Constitution should not protect “hate speech,” and 73% supported policies that legally restrict offensive slurs.
American campuses, while professing opposition to all types of hatred in the name of inclusiveness and tolerance, simultaneously embrace “anti-Zionism,” with its rejection of the Jewish right to self-determination, and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS), which opposes Israel’s right to exist.
How many academics such as Professor Hill will risk character assassination and damage to their reputations to express views that counter the accepted campus orthodoxy on any issue and, most particularly, the Jewish state of Israel?
Voltaire’s allegedly famous commitment to free speech — “I wholly disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it” — has been replaced by the freedom to express only particular views, reminiscent of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”: “Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.”
Historically, universities have been the source of intellectual inquiry by insisting on the free and unfettered exchange of ideas. Today, the decaying of our universities, where free speech protection is dispensed on a selective basis, is the cautionary tale of our generation.
Ziva Dahl is a senior fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center.