The campus free speech crisis and how to deal with it

Yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered what Fox News calls a “blistering speech” in which he declared that freedom of expression is “under attack” on America’s college campuses. Though major media outlets tried to shrug off Sessions’ speech, his contention is beyond reasonable dispute.

Anyone who doubts this should read Stanley Kurtz’s harrowing account of the campus free speech crisis. Stanley argues that an already parlous situation is worsening as a new school year begins. He writes: “[I]n addition to outside speakers, targets of attack now include disfavored professors, administrators, courses, and students.”

Sessions’ speech focused on speech codes and other college imposed restrictions on free expression. He announced that the Justice Department will support the court case brought by a Christian student at a state college in Georgia who alleges that his ability to proselytize has been restricted by the school.

Speech codes and the like are a serious problem. But Stanley is right when he says:

The campus free-speech crisis has outrun state legislation designed merely to abolish speech codes and free-speech zones. Refusal to discipline disruptors is at the root of the escalating troubles. Unless educators and legislators tackle the need to discipline speaker shout-downs, classroom invasions, building takeovers, and the like, campuses will continue to spin out of control.

Stanley shows that, with very few exceptions, college administrators aren’t going to impose meaningful discipline on their own. Hence, the need for the campus free-speech legislation he has co-authored with Jim Manley and Jonathan Butcher of the Goldwater Institute.

If state legislatures adopt such legislation, their state colleges will become true “free speech zones” — “safe spaces” for the free exchange of ideas. These colleges will prosper at the expense of institutions where free expression is stifled. If enough state legislatures follow this course, the campus free speech crisis will subside.

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