Preserving free speech on college campuses

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Dr. Ryan Anderson discusses controversial issues at a University of Dallas event. Photo by Kaity Chaikowsky.

Free speech on college campuses like our own has been threatened by a culture of intolerance, and the measures being taken by our state and federal government are essential in preserving our first amendment rights.

More and more, we see that universities are becoming academic echo-chambers instead of forums that provide an honest education by opening students’ minds with engaging debate in every worthy argument.

When Milo Yiannopoulos came to speak at the University of California Berkeley in 2017, police were forced to cancel the event when violent student protests threatened Yiannopoulos’ safety.

Similarly, in 2016, Ben Shapiro, a prominent conservative speaker, had his speaking event canceled at California Southern University of Los Angeles. Three days before the event was set to take place, Shapiro received an email from the university president stating that the event was being moved to a future date so that Shapiro could “appear as part of a group of speakers with differing viewpoints on diversity” in order to “better represent our university’s dedication to the free exchange of ideas and the value of considering multiple viewpoints.”

However, as Shapiro later pointed out, CSULA previously had no problem inviting Dr. Cornel West, a prominent member of the Democratic Socialists of America, to speak without other panelists providing alternative viewpoints to ensure diversity of thought.

The national debate over free speech recently prompted President Trump to issue an executive order defending free speech on public university campuses, claiming that he was taking “historic action to defend American students and American values that have been under siege.”

This move, though largely symbolic, is a step in the right direction to ensure that universities remain environments for true learning and foster open-mindedness and vibrant debate.

Trump’s executive order directs twelve government agencies, each of which already oversees federal grants to public universities, to allot federal money based on how well a university defends free speech on its campuses.

The order is tailored to public universities and does not affect the funding of private universities such as UD, because private universities have the right to regulate some speech, although not all speech, as they see fit. Despite this, it is a strong move by the Trump administration to protect the free speech rights of students on college campuses across the country.

On the state level, the Texas House of Representatives is currently considering a new “free speech” bill, which would codify free speech protections on college campuses.

Rep. Briscoe Cain introduced the bill to ensure that everyone has the right to express themselves on public university campuses as long as they are “lawfully present.”

Cain introduced the bill at the House State Affairs Committee meeting last Wednesday in response to a multitude of complaints from across the country which alleged that conservatives’ free speech rights are continually abused on college campuses.

Cain claimed that he personally encountered discrimination when he was invited by the Federalist Society to speak at Texas Southern University in 2017.

“Before I was able to speak, protests began, which is fine, I wasn’t offended,” Cain said at the House State Affairs Committee meeting last Wednesday. “At one point, the president of the undergraduate university of TSU comes out … he takes the mic and says, ‘this is an unapproved event’ and shuts it down.”

Cain asserted that this occurred even though the event had in fact been approved, and though he had filled out all of the appropriate paperwork, his speech was still shut down.

“You guys can see that if it could happen to me, of course it can happen to you, and so there’s a problem with that,” Cain added.

If Cain’s bill is passed, Texas would join Iowa and Kentucky to become the third state to pass legislation protecting students’ free speech rights on public university campuses.

All three bills define outdoor space on college campuses as “public forums” on which, according to the Supreme Court, “the government may not prohibit all communicative activity and must justify content-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions as narrowly tailored to serve a legitimate interest.”

These measures are wholly appropriate and necessary.

Though restriction of speech and debate may not be a great issue on our campus, it is a growing problem around our nation. UD should not be odd because we are a university where diverse opinions and ideas are accepted and argued.

Speech should not be shut down simply because it challenges us and affects our emotional states. True knowledge and education will always challenge and change us.

Truth is no safe thing, but it is necessary to seek truth for us to learn and grow.

It is essential that we protect free speech on college campuses across our nation by both serving as an example for what a university that protects speech is and by supporting measures such as the one proposed by Rep. Cain.

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