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Is your text message too mean? Careful: You might get expelled

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An absurd policy underscores the campus free speech problem

To say that the University of West Alabama has a free speech problem would be putting it mildly: The public university forbids “harsh text messages” from being sent on its campus, while also outlawing “rumors” and “embarrassing…websites,” among various other types of free speech. Note that the policy does not apply merely to, say, work phones issued by the school itself; it’s a blanket prohibition that applies to everyone and every device. If you’re on campus, you’d better refrain from a “harsh” message, or else.

That campus officials felt the need to author such a policy says a lot about how the school views its student body. But more generally this is a symptom of the wider and pervasive free speech problem affecting many if not most campuses these days. You cannot understand the problem of free speech in higher education without first understanding the impulse that drives campus bureaucrats to outlaw “harsh text messages.”

It is noteworthy that American progressives, who at one point professed to care a little bit about freedom of speech, are largely silent when it comes to the suffocating climate on American campuses. This is not an accident. The Left is well-aware that it holds virtually all of the keys to American higher education; administrators, faculty, staff and students on virtually every campus are all overwhelmingly liberal. They have it on lock. Any campus policy that restricts any kind of free speech is thus likely if not almost certain to advantage the Left over the Right. In this case, silence is opportunism.

In the grand scheme of things a stupid campus text message policy might not seem like the hugest deal. And in the immediate present one supposes it is not. But this type of neurotic paternalism will not stay confined to the campus; it never does. Such impulses will likely make their way into boardrooms, staff meetings, corporate retreats, company policy; a generation educated under the auspices of censorship will likely absorb its lessons quite well. This worldview may even one day make its way into our government; we have a robust free speech regime in this country right now, but generations hence, who came of age in the era of speech codes and safe spaces, may view the First Amendment with more hostility than we do now. Saying “it can’t happen here” is not enough, for it already is happening here, and will likely continue.

MORE: Canadian professor under investigation for promoting free speech in class

CORRECTION: This editorial originally identified the school in question as the University of Alabama. It is actually the University of West Alabama. The article has been amended to reflect this.

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