Protecting Free Speech in the Leaning Ivory Tower
Some things in life are guaranteed: death, taxes, and left-leaning professors in the ivory tower. Proof? The percentage of professors identifying as “far-left” increased from 42 percent in 1990 to 60 percent in 2014, according to UCLA researchers. Another study published last year found that professors who are registered as Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 12 to 1. At Harvard, 84 percent of the faculty’s political contributions went to Democrats. The College Fix reports that the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, 17 departments have no professors registered as Republicans—zero.
As featured recently in the AJC, an Iowa lawmaker proposed legislation that would require universities to balance the number of Republican and Democrat-professing professors that schools hire. A bill so narrowly focused on universities’ employment practices leaves room—as well-intentioned legislation often does—for unintended consequences. Based on the polling above, there may not be enough professors on the right of the political isle to fill such a quota.
Lawmakers in Iowa—and Georgia—should consider a more fundamental issue: Protecting free speech on campus, no matter where you place yourself on the ideological spectrum. Disagree with many people in class? Engage in debate and discover the power of ideas and value of persuasion. So far this year, lawmakers in at least four states are considering resolutions or legislation that protects free speech on campus (Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Illinois). The new bills are modeled after Campus Free Speech: A Legislative Proposal by Stanley Kurtz from the Ethics and Public Policy Center and Jim Manley and myself from the Goldwater Institute.
The model legislation takes a comprehensive approach to protecting free expression on public college and university campuses. The bill prevents universities from designating so-called campus “free speech zones,” which actually limit what you can say and where you can say it. The bill allows individuals to speak and act freely on college grounds, as long as they do not interfere with others’ ability to do so. The bill also requires public universities to adopt mission statements in favor of free speech and make sure this material is available to existing and prospective students and faculty. Schools will be required to release an annual report on the condition of free speech on campus.
Colleges should be neutral on the issues and provide space for students and faculty to debate. Once students have left the college bubble, they are destined to encounter people with different opinions. Getting along and working peaceably with—and yes, when the time comes, even amicably disagreeing with—such people is a part of adulthood. No better time to practice these skills than when in college.