From Every College Campus, Let Free Speech Ring
More and more Americans are graduating high school and seeking higher education at
universities. Their sought-after degrees vary, but the students all have the same goal: to develop
the skills necessary to succeed in life and make a difference in the world. On an alarming number
of campuses, an obstacle to these well-intentioned dreams lurks in the form of threats to free
speech. 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 to
promote 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 is
simply not possible without free speech. Most significantly, free speech enables the exchange of
diverse information about cultures, political views, scientific theories, and myriad other topics. In
the 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 makes
new discoveries possible. Social and scientific advancements cannot occur if people are
prevented from presenting their opinions and collaborating with other individuals. To limit free
speech is to hinder the sharing of information, and to thus restrict progress.
Additionally, free speech in higher education prepares students for the world after
college, the supposed objective of universities. Free speech allows students to learn about ideas
they have not heard of or do not understand, broadening their knowledge and increasing their
workforce readiness. More importantly, however, students learn how to interact even with those
they 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 the
relatively secure structure of college is a better strategy than suddenly struggling with opposing
viewpoints 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 all
perspectives, and that will only happen if you can freely listen to others. Free speech thus
facilitates critical thinking and self-examination, useful skills in college studies, analytical jobs,
household record keeping, and other endeavors. Moreover, free speech can make us more
tolerant, as we welcome other opinions and then share our own. Finally, by providing
opportunities to articulate ideas, free speech helps us all by fostering the development of
Yet, despite all these benefits of free speech, colleges across the United States undermine
the ideals of liberal education through censorship. Zach Wood, a student at Williams College and
leader of the campus’s Uncomfortable Learning group, experienced this problem firsthand.
Controversial speakers invited to Williams College purely for the sake of learning were
disinvited 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 or
held dear by most Americans. Comparable scenarios play out at universities throughout the
country; all are damaging.
Those who advocate censorship of opposing viewpoints forget the essence of a liberal
arts education, aptly described by Hillsdale College English Professor Dwight Lindley during an
April 21, 2017 presentation to potential Hillsdale students (myself included). Professor Lindley
encouraged 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 view
provides additional insight on the issue being contemplated. Combining all the “points” and their
many angles on the subject creates a “sphere” representing complete knowledge.
Freedom of speech ensures the integrity of the “sphere” Professor Lindley so memorably
depicted. Censorship of viewpoints that are not politically correct or otherwise favored damages
the “sphere” by eliminating essential perspectives. In severe cases, censorship produces a onedimensional
structure from which to assess a topic. Such a limited outlook can hardly be
considered a liberal education.
Similarly, censorship, whether in institutions of higher education or in the “outside
world,” 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 subduing
the freeness of speech.” It is easy to conquer a country of people whose thoughts and words are
already enslaved. A free, functioning society requires independent, educated thinkers. Neither of
those traits results from censorship. You cannot be independent if you have never had to
critically think about alternative perspectives and decide what you believe. And, no one can
really 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 of
every American, we must first preserve freedom of speech. Its value to society cannot be
overstated, but is often overlooked. There is no better place to start than by promoting free
speech in higher education.
From Every College Campus, Let Free Speech Ring