Bush Official Fires Back at Columbia’s Denial of Campus Speech Crisis

College protest against fascism

Tom Lindsay, the former Deputy Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities under President George W. Bush, hit back this week against claims by Columbia University’s president about the state of free speech on American campuses.

Former college professor Tom Lindsay penned a column this week for Forbes in response to Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’s recent op-ed defending the state of free speech on college campuses. The op-ed, entitled “Free Speech on Campus is Doing Just Fine, Thank You,” Bollinger argued claims of a speech crisis on campus are overblown.

“First, universities are, today, more hospitable venues for open debate than the nation as a whole. Second, not only have fierce arguments over where to draw the line on acceptable speech been a familiar occurrence in the United States for the past century, but such dialogue has also been indispensable to building a society that embraces the First Amendment,” Bollinger opined.

Lindsay, who was appointed Deputy Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities under President George W. Bush, disagrees with Bollinger’s analysis. Lindsay points out that Bollinger has ignored various studies that highlight developing student attitudes on restricting speech.

But Bollinger also neglects FIRE’s latest assessment of campus free speech, titled “Speaker shout-down support gets double-digit boost in one year.” The FIRE study chronicles a “particularly notable uptick in campus shout-downs and calls for disinvitation.” FIRE finds that, as of this June, “14 speakers have been disinvited and an additional nine have been threatened with disinvitation.” It adds that “this year’s combined 23 cases is higher than 2018’s total of 16 — and we’re not even halfway through the year.”

Lindsay argues that newfound sympathies towards shutting down speech on college campuses will lead to mob rule.

The only answer left for Bollinger is that “the times” will determine the meaning of not only the First Amendment but the entire Constitution. Recourse to “the times” is only a euphemism for “presentism,” slavish acquiescence to current opinions. This is how historical relativism undermines reverence for our Constitution, opening the door to what Lincoln feared—“the mobocratic spirit,” through which the rule of law is sacrificed to fleeting popular passions.

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