Greg Lukianoff says stand-up comics often complain about performing before college students.
The comics tell Lukianoff, president at the nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), that campus speech codes prevent them from using their “A” material.
The consequences of diminished speech on college campuses are far more important than a watered down comedy set.
“It hurts the way we talk to each other and trains people to talk just to the people they agree with,” he tells Breitbart News, adding it gives Americans poor intellectual habits.
Lukianoff details both the problem and its ramifications in the new Prager University course The Least Free Place in America. The course, roughly five minutes in length like other Prager selections, checks off some of the most egregious examples of speech violations on American campuses.
Consider the case of an Indiana University student found guilty of racial harassment for publicly reading Notre Dame vs. the Klan. The book celebrates the defeat of the Klu Klux Klan, but the book’s burning cross-laden cover prompted the investigation.
Vanderbilt University has a policy forbidding faith-based groups from choosing group members and leaders based on their faith.
Many schools employ chilling speech codes, like one enacted at several schools banning “inappropriately directed laughter.”
The subject isn’t a new one for Lukianoff, whose book on the subject, Unlearning Liberty, comes out in paperback March 11 (all royalties go to FIRE). He has been tracking free speech woes on campus for some time, and while he notes 2007 saw some of the most egregious cases in recent memory the problem isn’t getting better.
“It’s become such a part of the ecosystem on campuses,” he says, adding the P.C. police continue to haunt colleges nationwide. “A lot of universities are not even bothering to appeal to more higher-minded sounding values. Years ago, there was some disingenuous lip service [to free speech].”
The free speech clampdown doesn’t just involve politically inconvenient chatter like spiritual or political debates. He sees it influencing people to not speak out against campus corruption or poor policies.
“It’s important for college students and their parents to stand up to speech codes,” he says, adding today’s pupils have been taught not to rock the educational boat. “People have gotten used to this in K-12. By the time they get to college they don’t wanna fight it.”
Meanwhile, concerned parents fear their children will be booted from college should they take on their school’s speech policies. Lukianoff understands those battles can be daunting, but he says students often win in the end.
He blames mid-level administrators for instigating some of the more outrageous free speech assaults. And, at at time when higher education prices continue to soar, tuition money often goes toward “the swelling ranks of mid-level and upper level administrators.
The most frightening part of the free speech attacks, he says, is the attitude many on-campus people currently have toward the issue.
“When I first started doing this, you didn’t have to defend that free speech was important on college campuses. It was taken for granted,” he says. “Now, people say, ‘oh, you know, what’s the big deal?”