Free speech means all should have the chance to comment

Greg Lukianoff, author and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, presented “The Threat to Free Speech on Campus and What to Do About It” on Monday at Northern Michigan University’s Jamrich Hall.

Lukianoff is co-author, with social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, of “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.”

He believes the lack of experience in uninhibited debate is a big problem in modern university life.

“Because campuses, frankly, tend to be so monolithic — people think that everyone agrees — there’s a sense that, ‘Oh, well, power will always be on my side, power will do the right thing if I can just guilt them into doing it,’ without realizing that the more power you give to power, ultimately the people it’s going to harm in the long run are minorities or oddballs or free thinkers,” Lukianoff said. “I see this time and time again in my work.”

What he’s also seen are people harboring stereotypes of campus life being the “evil conservative against the nice left-leaning students” or the “good students fighting the racists and the bigots.”

Things are more complicated.

Several factors, though, threaten campus free speech, he said.

“One of them, of course, is political correctness, a term I don’t love all that much because I feel like it means such different things to liberals and conservatives,” Lukianoff said.

Other factors are administrators controlling the campus environment, the federal government, the “professoriate,” student “illiberalism” and the “outrage” mobs, he said.

Lukianoff provided many examples of college free speech being curtailed, including the “free speech gazebo” at Texas Tech University, which he called “20 feet wide of freedom for all 28,000 students.”

Another was the speech code at the University of West Alabama that bans “harsh” text messages or emails as part of its online cyberbullying and cyber harassment policy.

“Whenever I tell students about this, it’s like, ‘So, who in here has never arguably sent a harsh email or text message?’ — and do you really want administrators to punish you for that?” Lukianoff asked.

Not only are students being taught bad habits relating to freedom of speech, they are being taught the habits of anxious and depressed people, he said.

“We’re disempowering them,” Lukianoff said. “We’re taking away the activities, the skills that actually make you feel like a human being.”

He recommended students argue “fairly” with themselves and others; address an argument, not a person; fight for their rights of freedom of speech as well as others’ rights; and seek out “smart people” with whom they disagree.

With The Mining Journal providing news to the public since 1841, it would only be natural for us to defend free speech and the First Amendment. However, we believe this dialogue on Monday touches on some very important points. When we close ourselves off to people who have differing views than our own, we essentially strangle the opportunity for open debate.

As Americans, this is not something we should allow to ever happen. Sometimes, it takes hearing the differing opinions of others to show us how we actually feel about something.

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