For a generation, America's vast system of higher education has become
known for its increasing intolerance of free speech when it comes to
conservative ideas. Fortunately, the stifling of expression and dialogue
on America's university and college campuses may be in its final days.
Recently, both a federal court and the Bush Administration have upheld
the First Amendment and denounced university and college policies that
prohibit expression perceived as insensitive or hurtful.
First, U.S District Court Judge John E. Jones III ruled in September that
Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania must end enforcement of its
oppressive speech code. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
sued Shippensburg earlier in the year because the university's code
states that "commitment to racial tolerance, cultural diversity, and
social justice will require every member of this community to ensure that
the principles of these ideals be mirrored in their attitudes and
In other words, Shippensburg students are required to drench themselves
in Left-wing radicalism. Hopefully after this federal ruling, some bit
of decency will return to Shippensburg.
Second, a letter was sent in August from the Department of Education
Office of Civil Rights to America's college and university
administrators, clarifying that "OCR's regulations and policies do not require or
prescribe speech, conduct, or harassment codes that impair the exercise
of rights protected under the First Amendment." This statement reverses
years of federally required violation of the First Amendment.
Under the Clinton Administration, the Leftist control of expression in
higher education became institutionalized at the federal level. In the
1990s, the OCR required universities to impose and enforce rigorous
speech codes in order to receive federal funding.
Today, it is estimated that 90 percent of America's institutions of
higher education have adopted a speech code of some form.
Campus administrations claim that the purpose of their speech codes is
to protect certain groups who are vulnerable to harassment and
discrimination. Yet too often, these codes are used as a means to censor the
expression of non-Leftist ideas. At the University of New Hampshire, the
speech code bans "ongoing and unproductive culturally based arguments
between roommates" and "disagreements between floor members over
'political' material posted on their room doors."
Florida Tech bans any "use of threatening words or actions that are
likely to, or do in fact, cause emotional distress."
The University of Maryland policy gives no leeway for "idle chatter of
a sexual nature, sexual innuendoes, comments about a person's clothing,
body, and/or sexual activities, comments of a sexual nature about
weight, body shape, size, or figure, and comments or questions about the
sensuality of a person." As George Mason University Professor David
Bernstein points out, simply complementing a person on their choice of
clothing could be considered an offense at University of Maryland.
Writing for the Washington Times, Bucknell University junior Charles
Mitchell claims that his school's Campus Court has created and applied a
"right to feel comfortable." Mitchell continues, "That policy makes me
feel very uncomfortable, but, because of my political views, my
sensitivities are given no standing whatsoever at Bucknell."
Diversity is the value above all others on the mainstream campus of
2003 -- diversity of culture, morality, skin color, sexuality, and so on.
Yet to the Left, diversity is a very narrow concept. Students and
professors who are conservative, Christian, straight, white and male are not
considered diverse enough these days.
So when it comes to the diversity that matters -- intellectual diversity
-- only the Left is allowed to speak.
At the Harvard of Conservatives in the heartland of America, Michigan's
Hillsdale College, tolerance for intellectual diversity remains a
defining feature. Despite the conservative leanings of the college, there is
a daily clash of differing viewpoints in the classrooms of Hillsdale.
There is certainly a necessity for codes of behavior on college
campuses, but high standards can exist without destroying the free exchange of
ideas. For example, Hillsdale College includes a simple policy in its
code prohibiting "disorderly, lewd, indecent or obscene expression on
college-owned or controlled property or at college-sponsored or
When campus speech codes go beyond the Hillsdale model, they reduce
education to nothing more than an assembly line in a factory of political
correctness. Today, the speech codes at most of America's campuses are
a carefully planned mechanism by social engineers to turn students into
mindless, soulless robots.
Fortunately, Judge John Jones and the Bush Administration have enough
sense to uphold the First Amendment and demand an end to speech codes.
It is time for colleges and universities to get serious about reopening
higher education as the marketplace of ideas.
Hans Zeiger, 18, is a columnist, speaker, and activist. An Eagle Scout, he is president of the Scout Honor Coalition.