Sunday, December 17, 2023

Small: Free speech double standard at colleges

Free speech double standard at colleges
By Jonathan Small

The leaders of three major universities recently became free-speech absolutists – when it comes to defending anti-Semitic calls for genocide at student rallies. But if you “misgender” a man wearing women’s clothes, look out.

The ever-shifting standards of college presidents when it comes to free-speech protections is one reason U.S. citizens have an increasingly negative view of a college education. A July poll by Gallup found that just 36% of Americans have confidence in higher education with only 17% expressing a “great deal” of confidence, and a March poll by The Wall Street Journal found 56% of American say the cost of a four-year degree is not worth it.

Harvard University President Claudine Gay, University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill, and MIT President Sally Kornbluth recently appeared before a U.S. House Committee and were roundly criticized when they refused to say that calls for the genocide of Jews would constitute a violation of their universities’ codes of conduct.

If those schools took the same hands-off approach to other speech, particularly far less objectionable speech, the presidents’ actions might be forgivable. But, to cite just two examples, in 2017 Harvard revoked admission for 10 incoming freshmen because of memes they shared on social media. At a mandatory training last year, Harvard undergraduates were told “fatphobia” and “using the wrong pronouns” qualified as “abuse” and perpetuated “violence” on campus.

In the upside-down world of academia, calls for violence may be protected speech but speech calling a man in a dress “he” can be an act of violence.

Sadly, we’ve seen similar patterns in Oklahoma.

In 2021, OU volleyball player Kylee McLaughlin sued the university after she faced retribution from coaches for disagreeing with a documentary (which the team was required to watch) that compared today’s Republicans to 1950s segregationists. In a court brief, OU responded by again calling McLaughlin a bigot (without providing evidence) and dismissed her defense of free speech as an “inimical rant.”

In contrast, when OU student protestors recently chanted, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” OU officials said nothing. The chant is broadly understood as a call for the elimination of Israel and even the extermination of Jews.

Oklahoma State University has similar free-speech problems and is currently fighting a lawsuit that claims the university’s harassment, computer, and bias-incidents policies violate students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

It is no surprise these worrisome trends are growing in tandem with colleges’ “diversity, equity and inclusion” (DEI) regimes., which foster tribalism and discrimination. If Oklahomans want our colleges to be shielded from the racist nonsense seen elsewhere, a good first step is to purge them of DEI influence.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.


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