Just how bad is the state of free speech and debate on America’s campuses? In March 2018, Gallup/Knight looked to answer this question through conducting a survey of more than 3,000 college students. The results are frightening: The survey reveals that 61 percent of American college students find that their school prevents some students and faculty from openly declaring their views because others might deem them “offensive.”
Perhaps worse, the new poll shows that a majority of today’s college students have become comfortable with their intellectual chains: Another survey question asked them to decide whether free speech or “inclusion” matter more. A majority (53 percent) opted for inclusion, whereas 46 percent tapped free speech as the more important of the two.
What can be done? In an attempt to find answers, the nonpartisan American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) commissioned historian and constitutional law scholar, Joyce Malcolm, to report on the crisis and offer recommendations. Her report is well worth reading, and her recommendations are thoughtful.
First among her recommendations is to call attention to the University of Chicago’s courageous statement on free expression, penned in 2015, as the free-speech atrocities were beginning to rock our campuses and country. Malcolm quotes this synoptic statement from the Chicago Principles: “The University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose.”