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The “Campus Free Speech Crisis” Ended Last Year

Rejected submission by aristarchus at 2019-02-09 00:15:54 from the Libertarians-think-of-tanks dept.
Digital Liberty

Well, that went well! A piece from the Niskanen Center [] maintains that the crisis of free speech is over.

What ever happened to the Campus Free Speech Crisis? A year ago, universities were bracing for a new wave of Charlottesvilles. Administrators were predicting more protests, more deplatformings, and more out-of-control student activism. Indeed, the crisis was thought to be so acute that the White House convened a forum to address it, while state legislatures across the country scrambled to pass new laws and regulations.

What a difference a year makes. Rather than collapsing into chaos, 2018 was a year of relative quiet on college campuses. There were fewer deplatformings, fewer fired professors, and less violence compared to 2017. There was also more dialogue, greater respect for faculty free speech rights, and increased tolerance on both the right and the left. All of which raises the question: what went right?

Or, what did not go alt-right?

Why the new culture of tolerance? Some of it, I suspect, is due to the efforts of groups like PEN America, FIRE, and Heterodox Academy, which have been working tirelessly all year to promote dialogue and protect free speech. Fear of litigation is also likely to have made a difference. But I suspect the broader national political climate may be an even more important factor. Few observers truly appreciate how deeply the culture on campus is shaped by events taking place off it, which is why I suspect there is too little recognition that many of the events of 2016 and 2017, when concern about the “Free Speech Crisis” was at its height, were tied to the presidential election.

Trump’s campaign and victory generated enormous consternation among many students and faculty, leading some to embrace confrontational forms of activism. In this, they were no different from activists off campus. But as that initial surge of panic has receded, so has the combative sense of urgency and alarm that drove campus activists when it was vivid and fresh. In other words, it is probably not that students are suddenly being won over by Mill’s On Liberty. Nor is it that they now see the value of what Charlie Kirk or Ben Shapiro bring to campus. Rather, it is just that they are beginning to find them boring.

This might not sound like tolerance, but it is

Well, there it is. The right wing is boring. But interesting to look into who the Niskanen Center is, according to Think Tank Watch [], Cato Institute alumnai, eh? This Cato Institute? ("founded as the Charles Koch Foundation in 1974 by Ed Crane, Murray Rothbard, and Charles Koch") []? And the fine Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) [], also a right-wing libertarian organization. And let's not get started on the Heterodox Academy [].

But the first comment to this fine article is informative:

Dean Wormer February 03, 2019
To say that this is a phony crisis is a vast understatement, and to use fantasy statistics like "faculty termination for political speech by speech type" is a pernicious kind of propagandizing. That maybe two dozen faculty may -- emphasis on the may, because almost all of the most highly publicized cases usually involved factors that are well beyond the twitter-fueled outrage -- have lost their jobs because of speech should be noted, but given that there are 4,500 colleges and universities in America that employ 1.5 million faculty, .002 percent is hardly an epidemic.

Thank goodness that American Academia has dodged the bullet on the free speech crisis, and can now go on discriminating against neo-nazis and white supremacists, and not-very-good-at-lying Libertarian think tanks.

Original Submission