Michael McConnell: Universities & the First Amendment
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Michael McConnell: Universities & the First Amendment

Traditionally, we’ve understood colleges and
universities, uh, as being, uh, where ideas are hashed out on their merits, but alas,
that is not what colleges and universities look like, uh, today. The great danger from within to universities
is the growing intolerance, uh, for, uh, difference of opinion along ideological lines. This is really a remarkable development, so
different than it was, you know, 30 or 40 years ago. I sometimes joke to my students that, “Did
you realize that there used to be a free speech movement, uh, on campuses like the University
of California at Berkeley where the students are actually, uh, asking for more free speech?” Well, free speech on campus is under attack,
uh, essentially from two quite different sources. Uh, for one thing, university policies are
frequently not particularly friendly toward, uh, freedom of speech. There are speech codes, uh, which restrict
the ability of, of, uh, students to speak, free speech zones encouraging, uh, faculty
to have, uh, trigger warnings. But I think an even greater threat to freedom
of speech for most students at most universities today is other students. Uh, you know, a, a student, uh, can hardly
express a dissenting view without being put down, uh by his fellow students, and, and
frequently, uh, there are going to be firestorms on Facebook and other types of social media,
uh, firestorms of condemnation of, uh, of, uh, students who, whose comments are, are
taken, a- amiss. This, this is having a very real effect of
chilling speech. Professors are very often part of the problem,
uh, that they egg on students to, uh, uh, to be intolerant toward others, or at least,
uh, do not take any reasonable efforts to, uh, to encourage or to model, uh, a difference
of opinion. It’s the liberal students who really lose
out from this because as a liberal or progressive student in a modern day university or law
school, you can go through your entire education without ever being in a classroom where your
fundamental presuppositions are going to be challenged. And you do not have any need to learn how
to, uh, express yourself and communicate, uh, persuasively with people who disagree
with you, because they’re not that many people out there who disagree with you, and they
have been silenced. Conservative students, on the other hand,
they have to learn the skill of speaking, uh, to people who they know are not naturally
likely to agree what they say. That means they have to develop, uh, habits
of persuasion, uh, and civility that, uh, that are going to stand them in enormously
good stead, uh, when they have public lives in, uh, uh, in the nation as a whole.

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