The University of Michigan “is an egregious example of how public institutions are limiting the free expression and debate of ideas,” according to an article Saturday in USA Today.
In a remarkably politically incorrect op-ed, writer Ingrid Jacques said that one look at U of M’s speech policies may convince readers they have been “transported back to East Germany or the USSR (Soviet Union), where these regimes quashed dissent and were constantly listening for any contrary point of view.”
While one does not spontaneously think of USA Today as an embattled defender of free speech, to its credit the newspaper chose to republish a piece from the Detroit News on the subversive speech regulations at U of M.
While this sort of commonsense analysis is daily fodder for serious conservative media like Breitbart News, it is a peculiar—though most welcome—addition to the pages of USA Today and The Detroit News.
UM’s campus “bows to political correctness,” Ms. Jacques asserts, creating a framework that “serves to chill opposing views and has earned the university a federal lawsuit.”
Carrying forward her analogy to the Soviet Union, Jacques says that UM is “creating a climate of suspicion on campus by encouraging students to spy on one another. They never know who they can trust.”
The university’s policy creates “staggering amounts of protected speech and expression,” she writes, citing the recent lawsuit, which is “the heart of the problem in this case.”
Never mincing words, Jacques says that UM speech policies are a part of “the war on free expression and civil rights on campuses around the country.”
Jacques cites Nicole Neily, president and founder of Speech First, the organization that has brought the lawsuit against UM, in saying that students “should be able to express themselves without fear of retribution.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education revealed that at least 231 colleges in the U.S. have similar bias response teams, while insisting that UM is one of the more established.
Jacques’ concerns are echoed by Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, who wrote this week that UM’s “bias response team” smacks of East Germany and George Orwell’s 1984.
“I’ve been concerned for quite some time about these speech restrictions on campuses and the future of the First Amendment,” von Spakovsky told Jacques. “It’s so Draconian that if you say something that might offend someone else, you could get disciplined or thrown out.”
While Jacques’ analysis is worthy of attention, perhaps the bigger story is the willingness of the Detroit News and USA Today to publish it.
As two central incarnations of mainstream media, it is to the papers’ credit that they chose to showcase such a countercultural essay.
This may signal a slight but significant shift in policy, or simply a momentary editorial oversight that can be quickly remedied with a pink slip.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome