From Every College Campus, Let Free Speech RingMore and more Americans are graduating high school and seeking higher education atuniversities.
Their sought-after degrees vary, but the students all have the same goal: to developthe skills necessary to succeed in life and make a difference in the world. On an alarming numberof campuses, an obstacle to these well-intentioned dreams lurks in the form of threats to freespeech. Students fear to discuss their political perspectives, see speakers banned due to their”offensive viewpoints,” and are relegated to tiny “free-speech zones” when all they want is topromote a cause. The reason for these unfortunate facts? An underappreciation for free speech,especially in higher education.Colleges that limit free speech make a critical mistake. A meaningful higher education issimply not possible without free speech. Most significantly, free speech enables the exchange ofdiverse information about cultures, political views, scientific theories, and myriad other topics.
Inthe classroom, hearing different opinions, such as opposing explanations of chemical bonding,aids in fully grasping a subject. Outside the classroom, the fearless sharing of knowledge makesnew discoveries possible. Social and scientific advancements cannot occur if people areprevented from presenting their opinions and collaborating with other individuals. To limit freespeech is to hinder the sharing of information, and to thus restrict progress.
Additionally, free speech in higher education prepares students for the world aftercollege, the supposed objective of universities. Free speech allows students to learn about ideasthey have not heard of or do not understand, broadening their knowledge and increasing theirworkforce readiness. More importantly, however, students learn how to interact even with thosethey do not agree with. Not all future colleagues, employers, friends, and other acquaintances will share your opinions about everything.
Practicing adapting to this notion while still in therelatively secure structure of college is a better strategy than suddenly struggling with opposingviewpoints as you strive to remain employed or raise a family.Furthermore, free speech in higher learning and beyond inspires us to develop personally,too. You cannot truly realize your own viewpoints unless you have been exposed to allperspectives, and that will only happen if you can freely listen to others.
Free speech thusfacilitates critical thinking and self-examination, useful skills in college studies, analytical jobs,household record keeping, and other endeavors. Moreover, free speech can make us moretolerant, as we welcome other opinions and then share our own. Finally, by providingopportunities to articulate ideas, free speech helps us all by fostering the development ofcommunication skills.Yet, despite all these benefits of free speech, colleges across the United States underminethe ideals of liberal education through censorship. Zach Wood, a student at Williams College andleader of the campus’s Uncomfortable Learning group, experienced this problem firsthand.Controversial speakers invited to Williams College purely for the sake of learning weredisinvited due to other students not wanting to hear different viewpoints that they deemed “hatespeech.
“Even worse, opposition to the speakers morphed into personal attacks on Zach. Clearly,Williams College’s idea of free speech was not the one found in the United States Constitution orheld dear by most Americans. Comparable scenarios play out at universities throughout thecountry; all are damaging.Those who advocate censorship of opposing viewpoints forget the essence of a liberalarts education, aptly described by Hillsdale College English Professor Dwight Lindley during anApril 21, 2017 presentation to potential Hillsdale students (myself included). Professor Lindleyencouraged us to envision a liberal arts education as developing a “sphere of viewpoints”encircling any topic being examined. He further explained that each “point” making up the”sphere” is a view based on not just different people, but different subject backgrounds(chemical, biological, philosophical, historical, etc.). When analyzed, each new point of viewprovides additional insight on the issue being contemplated.
Combining all the “points” and theirmany angles on the subject creates a “sphere” representing complete knowledge.Freedom of speech ensures the integrity of the “sphere” Professor Lindley so memorablydepicted. Censorship of viewpoints that are not politically correct or otherwise favored damagesthe “sphere” by eliminating essential perspectives.
In severe cases, censorship produces a onedimensionalstructure from which to assess a topic. Such a limited outlook can hardly beconsidered a liberal education.Similarly, censorship, whether in institutions of higher education or in the “outsideworld,” makes a free society impossible. Benjamin Franklin was correct, in his time and now,when he cautioned, “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduingthe freeness of speech.” It is easy to conquer a country of people whose thoughts and words arealready enslaved.
A free, functioning society requires independent, educated thinkers. Neither ofthose traits results from censorship. You cannot be independent if you have never had tocritically think about alternative perspectives and decide what you believe. And, no one canreally be free if they are afraid to speak their mind or consider other ideas.If we wish to develop as citizens, progress technologically, and protect the liberty ofevery American, we must first preserve freedom of speech.
Its value to society cannot beoverstated, but is often overlooked. There is no better place to start than by promoting freespeech in higher education.