By Tristan Miller-Lammert, Trending Writer
Freedom of speech is one of the most important rights Americans have. Sadly, it is also very misunderstood. For the last few years though, social media and activism have made the First Amendment a hot topic everywhere.
College campuses are crucial to this issue today. According to The New York Times, “colleges and universities [are] forced to publicly… deal with a confluence of national issues” from race and gender identity to politically correct speech. However, a generation, where no one wants to be offended, forces administrators into poor decision making.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is an organization dedicated to maintaining individual rights on American college campuses. A New York Times article about FIRE illustrates this administrative perspective on the issue.
FIRE president Greg Lukianoff believes that today’s students demand, “protections against offensive words and ideas at the expense of… the First Amendment”. By demanding protection against offensive ideas, students forget that “not being offended” is not a right. Despite this, students, who protest against all types of offensive language and behavior, force administrators to treat it as one.
This happens because they respond with rules that are intended to make everyone happy, but violate basic rights instead. Rules like Speech Codes, which became popular on campuses in the 1980’s, are examples. Their original intent was to protect the growing minority student body. Today, however, the term is used generally for any rules that violate the First Amendment. This includes preventing student protests or banning certain words on campus.
Administrators do not mean to make things worse but they do, because their student bodies want them to. A student survey said 69% wanted bans on slurs and offensive language and 27% said that expressing certain political views should be restricted. This means that a significant amount of students want their First Amendment rights restricted on campus.
In addition to this, potentially offensive material is being edited out of syllabuses and tenured professors like Lisa Buchanan are being fired for slang and off-color jokes. Buchanan was fired from her tenure position at Louisiana State University after 20 years of teaching.
The University of Chicago’s statement on freedom of expression puts it well: “debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are… offensive, unwise”. It says that students should decide for themselves what they do and do not like. They should argue against the views they disagree with, but not try to censor them.
Administrators at American colleges are faced with the reality that students are not doing this. They see censorship and bans as better alternatives to debate and discussion. Not only is this unconstitutional, it defeats the learning potential on campuses everywhere.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 22nd print edition.
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