State lawmakers are examining model campus free speech legislation that will address what has become a top issue for college administrators in the New Year: how to ensure free speech while keeping students safe and security costs down.
“It’s the No. 1 topic of the year, I would say, for folks in my business,” Kevin Kruger, president of the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, told Politico at the end of December.
Violent protests on college campuses throughout the country, including Evergreen State College, University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Virginia, have led think tanks that seek to protect the First Amendment rights of all students to provide model bills to state lawmakers.
Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Washington, DC-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, is the co-author of a model campus free speech bill that has been published by the Goldwater Institute – a libertarian/conservative think tank in Arizona.
Kurtz explained the Goldwater bill in an interview with Breitbart News:
We’ve put out what I think is the most comprehensive and toughest bill on campus free speech. What this bill does is ban so-called “free speech codes,” and “free speech zones,” as it also discourages administrators from disinviting controversial speakers who have already been invited by students and faculty members. That’s what most of the other model bills do. But, what the Goldwater model adds to all that is insistence on punishment for students who shout down visiting speakers, or rip down posters for the talk that a speaker is going to give, or in any way interfere with the free speech rights of others.
Right now, that’s really the heart and soul of the free speech crisis. Even though I think it’s absolutely essential that we ban these free speech zones and these restrictive speech codes, if you were to do all of that today, and still let these shout-downs take place, I think we’d still have a campus free speech crisis.
The Goldwater Institute summarizes its model legislation:
- It creates an official university policy that strongly affirms the importance of free expression, nullifying any existing restrictive speech codes in the process.
- It prevents administrators from disinviting speakers, no matter how controversial, whom members of the campus community wish to hear from.
- It establishes a system of disciplinary sanctions for students and anyone else who interferes with the free-speech rights of others.
- It allows persons whose free-speech rights have been improperly infringed by the university to recover court costs and attorney’s fees.
- It reaffirms the principle that universities, at the official institutional level, ought to remain neutral on issues of public controversy to encourage the widest possible range of opinion and dialogue within the university itself.
- It ensures that students will be informed of the official policy on free expression.
- It authorizes a special subcommittee of the university board of trustees to issue a yearly report to the public, the trustees, the governor, and the legislature on the administrative handling of free-speech issues.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has also published a model bill that is being considered by state lawmakers. FIRE is largely positive about the Goldwater bill, while it points out some differences:
For instance, FIRE believes students should have access to the active assistance of counsel in most disciplinary cases, as opposed to only those with a potential penalty of greater than 30 days’ suspension or those involving expressive conduct. The bill draft also addresses a few items about which FIRE does not take a position, and which FIRE would therefore not address through its own efforts. But there is little doubt that passage of this model legislation would represent a real improvement in free speech protections in states that do not already include such protections in state law.
Kurtz tells Breitbart News that simply characterizing college students who claim they need to be in “safe zones,” as “snowflakes” minimizes the real issues at stake:
The “snowflake” idea is true, but incomplete. The “snowflake” idea addresses that these students have helicopter parents who didn’t want to see them get hurt in any way, who coddled them, and didn’t get them used to the hard knocks of life. I think there’s some real truth in that. So – when they hear someone who disagrees with them – they sort of want to shrivel up and die, which makes them want to silence people. But, I think that this psychological explanation underplays the importance of ideology in all this.
If you look at what’s happened to the university over the last few decades, they’ve really been taken over by the “studies programs” – African-American studies, Latino studies, women’s studies, environmental studies, gender studies – and sometimes they literally have “studies” that teach activism. These studies programs are generally built around political assumptions, and their classes are teaching leftist politics.
Kurtz further explains that, today, even courses in the conventional departments – such as history, English, biology, etc., are cross-listed with other “studies” departments and share the common ideology.
“The rise of the studies programs and the political orientation behind them has an awful lot to do with the campus free speech problem we’re seeing,” he says.
He notes the gradual acceptance of the teaching of Marxist ideology in American colleges and universities:
In my day, I must have had three or four courses where we read On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill, which taught the basics of free speech and why we need it. It was very common to read John Stuart Mill and other defenses of free speech in the tradition of classical liberalism – such as what the Founders practiced.
This is not taught today. Instead, people teach about so-called “white privilege” and other ideas that, in an indirect way, are ultimately derived from Marxism or what you might call neo-Marxism, where the basic idea is that individual rights are just an illusion, and you really have just a bunch of powerful classes.
Instead of an economic class nowadays they talk about it as an ethnic or a gender class. And those powerful classes dominate and they create ideas like free speech that pretend to be neutral and fair to every individual, but they really aren’t. They’re just disguising the power of the class. That ideology comes from Marx, but it’s been spread out and used in this new frame with ethnicity and gender. So, this is the ideology that dominates the ethos of the studies programs.
Kurtz points out that the Goldwater legislation also has an educational component:
One of the things our campus free speech bill does, in addition to insisting the colleges adopt good statements defending free speech and explaining the meaning of free speech, we insist there be a section of freshman orientation where the students are taught about these statements, and that they’re taught about the policy that disciplines people who shut down speakers.
So, there is an educational element in our legislation, but ultimately legislation can never be a complete solution. There has to be a change in which we start to really educate students again in the principles of free speech and what classical liberalism of the kind the Founders practiced are all about. If we don’t do that, this generation is going to be lost and the country is going to be lost.
Kurtz has also been a vocal opponent of the Common Core standards and changes to the College Board’s Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum that reflect the leftist ideology. He explains that the latest controversy is over the College Board’s AP European History curriculum:
That has the same problem as the AP U.S. History curriculum. It focuses on group conflict – exactly the sort of thing that you find in the studies departments. And there’s even a neo-Marxist element to the AP U.S. History standards – they’re very materialist. The AP European History standards imply that the original liberals, like John Locke and Hobbs, and the Parliaments that brought modern democracy to England, were somehow motivated by class interest, and the implication is there’s something inauthentic and not very believable about classical liberalism. So, there’s no doubt that the curriculum the College Board has put in place has been adding to and exacerbating the underlying problem that we’re experiencing on free speech.
“People who wish to remain non-partisan emphasize the ‘snowflake’ thing, and others have taken it up, but the truth is there is a one-sidedness in the ideology of colleges that have become so far-left that they have broken from classical liberalism,” Kurtz concludes. “If we don’t acknowledge that’s at the root of the problem, then we’ll never solve it.”
A Goldwater-based bill has already become law in North Carolina. Additionally, another has cleared the state House in Wisconsin and has already been adopted by the Board of Regents at the University of Wisconsin.