Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate. Greg Lukianoff, President, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). New York: Encounter Books, 2012. 336 pp.
Are American universities contributing to the breakdown of public discourse and increased hyperpolarization? Greg Lukianoff, President of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), points to the assault on a number of basic freedoms as threats to the honest exchange of ideas on campus.
From free speech codes and zones that quarantine unpopular speech to freshman orientation programs that force a left-wing world view on impressionable students to outright censorship and threats by Administrators to expel students and fire professors, Lukianoff’s new book, Unlearning Liberty, details dozens of blatant violations of the First Amendment and due process.
For instance, the University of Cincinnati attempted to corral Young Americans for Liberty to a free speech zone totaling an area less than 0.1% of the university’s 137-acre campus. With the help of FIRE and Ohio’s 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, students sued the university, and a federal judge overturned UC’s blatant violation of the First Amendment.
But not all violations make it to court. Lukianoff explains that FIRE often uses the court of public opinion to put pressure on universities to change policies before pursuing legal action.
Keith John Sampson, a nontraditional student who worked as a janitor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, was brought up on charges of “racial harassment” for reading a book titled Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan. The book jacket depicts Klansmen burning crosses against a backdrop of Notre Dame’s campus.
The book details a 1924 confrontation between students and Klansmen in which the students prevailed. IUPUI administrators judged the book by its cover, and Sampson with it. Only after receiving public pressure from FIRE, media outlets, and bloggers did the university reverse its decision and publicly apologize.
These are two of the more high-profile cases Lukianoff highlights, but in a brief exchange on Twitter he explained that there are many cases that don’t receive the attention they deserve.
Vanderbilt University’s “all comers” policy has driven 13 religious groups off campus because it forces organizations to accept any student who wishes to join an organization, regardless of religious affiliation. The policy extends to all organizations, but is particularly detrimental to religious and political organizations, which can be infiltrated by members who don’t agree with the group’s stated beliefs. Lukianoff suggests this happens more than one might think.
Despite public pressure, Vanderbilt has not backed down in its effort to force its twisted notion of inclusion onto student groups.
Lukianoff further laments that the Student Accountability Community (SAC) program at Michigan State University didn’t receive the attention it deserved. SAC sought to intervene and correct aggressive behavior that could disrupt the university community. Sounds benign, right? Lukianoff describes how it worked:
The SAC program was essentially this: if you were caught speaking or behaving in a way that was not otherwise punishable but was deemed “aggressive” by a university administrator, you could be sentenced to treatment. You then had to sit in a room with an administrator for four sessions – for which you had to pay – in order to learn to take “accountability” for what you did. First, you wrote down what you thought you did wrong. By the looks of it, you could never come up with the right answer. (p. 135)
Administrators required offenders to describe their actions based on the program’s guidelines in what can be described as a truly Orwellian process. Punishable actions included offenses as minor as slamming a door or insulting a professor. After public pressure from FIRE, MSU discontinued the program.
These offenses barely scratch the surface of the cases Lukianoff outlines in Unlearning Liberty. Anyone interested in the state of higher education and public discourse should pick up this book.
Everyone benefits from an environment that is truly open to honest debate. We learn and are able to comprehend diverse viewpoints, while sometimes even sharpening our understanding of our own beliefs.
Administrators do a disservice by silencing dissent or forcing their moral or philosophical worldview on professors and students. And the consequences extend far beyond Academia.
Unlearning Liberty is a must-read for anyone interested in just how serious the threat to liberty is on the campuses of American universities. Lukianoff’s mixing of narrative and case studies make this book an easy and enjoyable read. Best of all, the proceeds from the sale of Unlearning Liberty go to further FIRE’s mission on campus.
Pick it up today, and follow Greg Lukianoff (@glukianoff) and FIRE (@TheFIREorg) on Twitter.
Disclaimer: Hurtt previously worked with conservative and libertarian students on university campuses as an employee of the Leadership Institute and has contributed financially to The FIRE’s efforts. Follow him on Twitter: @matthewhurtt
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire