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Campus censorship: ‘It’s much worse than people think’

Censorship continues to plague universities across the country, and ‘it’s much worse than people know or think,’ says first amendment attorney Greg Lukianoff.

Lukianoff, author of the newly published book “Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate,” said in an interview with National Review Online’s John J. Miller that “it’s incredibly easy to get in trouble for just about any opinion you have on the modern campus.”

That’s a huge program, Lukianoff said in the interview, recorded as part of the website’s “Between the Covers” feature.

“It’s not just harmful to students, it’s harmful to the entire society,” argues Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit that fights for freedom of speech, due process and academic freedom on campuses across the nation.

“It not only teaches students the wrong lessons for what it means to live in a free society, they also take very little understanding of principles like freedom of speech out with them into the real world,” he said. “Some of them become politicians, some of them become in charge of laws.”

The issue is more insidious than that, Lukianoff adds.

“The subtler affect is universities, by trying to clamp down on the expression of opinion, they are actually supercharging group polarization,” he said. “People’s opinions don’t tend to change necessarily by censorship, they just tend to get narrower. What ends up happening is people end up talking to people they already agree with in colleges – where you should actually be talking to people of all different stripes.”

This has led to echo chambers in places were critical thinking should take place, he said.

“Everything we talk about in society today, about our national discourse being dysfunctional, can at least partially be blamed on the fact that the one societal mechanism we have for making our discourse better can’t work if you can get in trouble for saying quote–unquote the wrong thing,” he said.

Lukianoff told Miller that in his book, he covers cases such as a student who was kicked out of college for protesting a university president’s pet project, the construction of a parking garage, under the claim that the student was a “clear and present danger to the campus.”

He brought up another example in which an Indiana student at a public university was found guilty of racial harassment because he was publicly reading a book called “Notre Dame Vs. the Klan.” It was about the defeat of the Klan, but someone saw the student reading it and was offended by its jacket cover, he said.

These are not just isolated examples, Lukianoff said – they’re par for the course. He notes that 65 percent of the top 400 universities in the country have speech codes that are “incredibly vague, incredibly broad, banning disrespectful speech, or hurtful speech, there was one code that talked about speech that causes a vague sense of unease.”

“These things are off the charts unconstitutional, and most colleges have them,” he said.

Plus, there’s two chapters in the book dedicated to the egregious examples of censorship abuses by professors and of professors, he told Miller in the interview.

It’s getting worse. The problem grew with the rise of speech codes in the 1980s, but it’s gone “off the rails since then, largely due to the fact that we have had a massive expansion in campus bureaucracy” – administrators who love to wield their power and micromanage, he said.

“It’s much worse than people know or think,” Lukianoff said.

Click here to listen to the entire interview.

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.