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FROM ENGINES TO OBSTACLES
THE EFFECTS OF REGULATING SPEECH ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES
BY JOSH RUDD
In the United States today just about everyone – famous celebrities, politicians, colleges, major
companies and corporations, average people, and even radical groups like Antifa and the Altright
–claims to support free speech. But when pressed, many people admit that some
viewpoints or ideologies are simply too radical and need to be regulated or even banned. When
a person or organization claims they support freedom of speech, they often mean that they
support freedom of speech which isn’t offensive. This contradiction of simultaneously
supporting and restricting free speech is most blatant on college campuses in the U.S. today,
where freedom of speech is extoled on every corner but suppressive speech codes reign
supreme.
Regulating speech inevitably hampers human progress because human beings are neither
infallible nor omniscient. Ideas that some think are dangerous or hateful may actually be
truthful, or at least contain some kernels of truth. But if the powers that be ban any expression
of ideas they deem radical or extreme, we would never know if those ideas had any truth to
them. If central authorities possessed the power to regulate speech they could ban the next
Isaac Newton and no one would ever know. In addition, authorities with the power to restrict
speech will almost certainly abuse that power because human beings are not perfect or all
knowing. Any speech policy which fails to take this into account will infringe on the liberties of
some and impede the progress of all.
In the U.S. today, colleges and universities discourage, suppress, and even ban the expression
of even remotely conservative ideas on their campuses. Colleges have been aggressively
pushing against the expression of conservatism since the 1970’s. It is no secret that college
environment today leans towards the left. However, the problem is not a left-leaning bias since
everyone has their own bias. The problem is that most college professors, administrators, and
even students label opposing views as offensive hate speech. Since the collegiate community
sees conservative views as offensive and even abusive, they believe they are justified in
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employing any means necessary to silence the expression of conservative ideas, up to and often
including violence.
College speech codes restrict speech based on emotion and subjective feelings. Emotion does
not and cannot determine truth. How someone “feels” about facts or arguments is irrelevant to
the accuracy and truth of those facts and arguments. To establish speech codes on the basis of
feelings and other subjective standards will eventually become detrimental to general human
progress.
The practical effects of the uniformity of thought and expression enforced on college campuses
have become more and more apparent over the past two decades. The most obviously
consequence is the phenomena of so-called “snowflake” college students. Colleges today
isolate students from contradictions to a leftist worldview by smearing and silencing opposing
ideas. Therefore, liberal students who have been exposed to nothing but affirmation and
agreement throughout most of their education cannot deal with the differing thoughts and
opinions present in the real world. These college students, instead of acting rationally and civilly
when confronted with contrary views, are prone to melting down like snowflakes, hence the
nickname.
But the censorship of free speech on college campuses doesn’t just harm students’ abilities to
deal with differing opinions; it teaches college students that those differing opinions should be
silenced. College students have been indoctrinated into believing that speech which offends
them, hurts their feelings, or makes them feel “unsafe” is not protected by the First
Amendment. And these students consider any viewpoint which substantially differs from their
own as “unsafe”. When these students enter the real world they find that people often
disagree with them and say offensive things. They respond in the only way they know how, by
trying to force everyone else to follow their restrictive rules about speech.
However, the simple fact that human beings are not unerring means that dismissing and
banning certain ideas based solely on the feelings and opinions of some will impede human
progress. For example, the persecution of Galileo by the Catholic Church in the 16th century
temporarily hampered the advancement of astronomical knowledge. Ironically, the same
people who today vehemently condemn Christianity as an enemy of human progress because
of instances such as the Catholic Church’s persecution Galileo, censor certain ideas based their
own ideological fervor.
Once colleges were considered centers of impartial learning, where multitudes of intellectuals
exchanged numerous opinions, and found truth through research, experimentation, and
vigorous debate. Today colleges have become training grounds in a struggle for ideological
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uniformity. Instead of encouraging the advancement human knowledge through the clash of
opposing ideas, colleges teach intolerance of differing opinions and ban unapproved speech.
College campuses should be some of the freest and most intellectually diverse places in
America. But today colleges foster some of the most restrictive and homogenous environments
in the United States. College should force students to think for themselves by exposing them to
numerous opposing viewpoints. Instead, colleges enforce an ideological echo chamber on their
campuses, where all unapproved views are ignored, regulated, and silenced. Rather than
supporting freedom of speech, colleges teach students that they are entitled to, as the
president of FIRE Greg Lukianoff would say, “freedom from speech.” The systematic
suppression of free expression on college campuses has transformed universities in the United
States from engines driving human advancement to obstacles hampering it.