Real debate is lacking on campuses

By BRETT KITTREDGE,

Colleges and universities are supposed to be places where curiosity is developed and intellectual debate is encouraged. But with each passing day, it appears that the debate part of the equation is limited in favor of indoctrination, or at a minimum, silence.

Most people, regardless of their political leanings, understand the ideological beliefs of college professors. One 2016 survey from Econ Journal Watch showed liberal professors outnumber conservatives by a ratio of 12 to 1. Business and economic schools tend to have a narrower margin, though they still lean left, while social sciences and humanities are even more liberal than the median. The same survey showed liberals in history departments outnumber conservatives 34 to 1. None of this is surprising.

The same schools that pride themselves on diversity of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and every other box the departments of diversity and inclusion can check appear to have little interest in diversity of thought. However, the issue isn’t that most professors are liberal; that alone is not the problem. The issue is that everyone must conform to those “preferred” beliefs. Or, at a minimum, pressure is put on students to keep their differing opinions to themselves. At least that is how college students feel.

In a recent survey of full-time undergraduate students by McLaughlin & Associates on behalf of Yale’s William F. Buckley Jr. Program, a majority, 52 percent, said professors often use class time to express their social or political beliefs completely unrelated to the subject of the class. And 53 percent said they often “felt intimidated” in sharing ideas or opinions that were different from their professors.

The problem extends beyond professors. The students who hold those majority views on many campuses often don’t want debate either. Fifty-nine percent of students agreed that a college “should forbid people from speaking on campus who have a history of engaging in hate speech.” I certainly don’t know anyone who condones hate speech, assuming they can define it, but when the subjectivity is left to college administrators, we are often left with anything right-of-center being classified as “hate speech.” A smaller minority, 33 percent of college students, believe that physical violence is justified in preventing speakers who espouse such “minority” views. Even if it is a smaller percentage, 33 percent is still a worrying number.

Simply put, free speech is not winning on college campuses like it should. Also troubling, 38 percent of students favor speech codes, like those at Delta State University in Cleveland, that restrict free speech. According to student regulations, “words, behavior, and/or actions which inflict mental or emotional distress on others and/or disrupt the educational environment at Delta State University” could possibly “subject violators to appropriate disciplinary action, including suspension and expulsion.”

 

This leads to many other questions. What causes mental and emotional distress among college students? Seeing as how traumatized many students were after the election of Donald Trump in 2016, is it safe to assume that a Trump sign, t-shirt, or a Make America Great Again hat would cause serious distress for a young student who has never had his/her political views questioned? While you and I may find this patently illogical and an illegitimate cause for emotional distress, these are the considerations we face when a school has speech codes. Ironically, at a place where whole departments are created in the name of diversity, a majoritarian mob of professors and students may prevent minority expressions.

Open discussions and free exchange of divergent ideas are becoming rare on college campuses. When there are open discussions, it is generally limited to “discussing” why conservatives are wrong, hateful, and bigoted. Such discussions are purposely one way and dialogue is not permitted.

For more than a century, the American university system was considered the best in the world for providing a classical liberal undergraduate education. Students received a well-rounded worldview and were prepared for success in life, regardless of their personal philosophy on civil society and government. For the sake of our future generations, we must reclaim our universities from this liberal high jacking. We must demand that students have the right to express themselves freely, no matter how unpopular such expressions may be.

Brett Kittredge is the director of marketing and communications for Mississippi Center for Public Policy, the state’s non-partisan, free-market think tank.

 

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