There is a deep sickness on our university campuses, one that has placed them in critical condition. What lies at the heart of the academy, the freedom to express and research ideas no matter how unpopular they may be, is in peril. Professors and administrators across the country are enabling, or even participating hand in hand with, radical student groups who throw destructive temper tantrums in the form of riots, attempt to block speakers with whom they disagree from stepping foot on campus and disrupt speeches in order to prevent those who wish to listen from doing so. These people are like the fat that clogs the arteries of the heart of the university and bring about academic heart attacks on campus. Now that there is a greater understanding of what are the symptoms of this illness, all of us who value free speech on campus must work together to cure the patient.
Here is what you can do:
Firstly, administrators from the chancellors to the deans to the provosts need to implement firm policies that not only welcome robust intellectual debate on campus but to serve as a severe deterrent to any potential agitators against the disruption of the flow of ideas. My personal belief is that the parameters of free speech should be that any speech should be allowed within the boundaries of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If you have a problem or you disagree with the speaker’s point of view, express it respectfully at the Q&A. Otherwise, don’t come to the speech. The rules regarding disruptive behavior at events needs to be tightened so that those who wish to censor understand that there are consequences to their actions.
I propose that anyone who disrupts a speech on campus should be immediately suspended from classes for a certain period of time as well as a note be placed in their transcript to that future graduate schools and employers know exactly what they’re dealing with. When the future leaders of tomorrow choose to behave like the children of yesterday, there is a very serious problem that must be addressed. It’s time the administration to put in place a system that forces the infantilized adults we see today to grow up.
Secondly, we need a student union that is willing to affirm that free speech is a fundamental right on campus and not to selectively interpret it in order to place it in an ideological mold that suits them. Student unions are the representatives of students on campus and I feel that more often than not those in positions of power do not recognize this responsibility that comes with the power of their office.
However over the last seven years an ideology has spread, with the student union leadership at the root, that only certain people who adhere to a certain orthodoxy of ideas can be allowed to speak on campus unimpeded. Anyone who falls outside those bounds is fair game for the worst of the trolls to go after and they won’t even say a word, as long as it’s someone they don’t like. So the policies that I would implement would be to force all members of a student union executive or faculty executive to resign any prior positions in other clubs, to prohibit a student union from speaking out about political issues unless it has a direct and tangible impact on student life and to reorient the mission of the student union back to its original intent in the long term, which is to provide student services and to serve student’s interests.
Thirdly, students and faculty need to work together both inside and outside of the classroom to foster a dialogue and a debate between conflicting ideas; as well as to nurture an environment where students are free to respectfully to share their views among their peers in class. Too often students who hold opinions which are outside of campus orthodoxy are made to feel less than in class, either overtly or covertly. This too must end. So it is up to those on campus, on an individual level, to begin the process of reaching out to those who disagree with you and attempt to understand the issue from their perspective. The importance of authentic and organic discussion cannot be overstated.
In conclusion while the condition may be severe enough at the universities that we can call a Code Blue, there are treatment options that can help make the situation better. But this can only happen if those who are a part of this want to get better. So I am challenging those that are feeling complacent to consider this: while the medicine that has been proposed is harsh, would you withhold it simply because the patient does not like it? And what will the future of free speech on campus look like without intervention?
I suppose we shall wait and see to find out.