Increasingly, the expectation of rigorous debate and discussion on controversial topics has diminished on college campuses across the nation. Students are now more content or even encouraged to coast through higher education without having to encounter beliefs or opinions that offend their preconceived notions about the world. Students are treating the college experience as less of an opportunity to broaden their horizons and more as a mere means to obtain a college degree. But this view of higher education is flawed because it fundamentally misunderstands the role that universities play in our society.
In a recent Learn Liberty video, Donald Downs, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, describes this phenomenon when he says, “What could be more anathema to the spirit of the university and tolerance than to believe that you have nothing left to learn?”
This problem manifests itself in the increased use of speech codes to censor speech that administrators and students find offensive. Universities are meant to foster an environment that allows for a marketplace of ideas to emerge. The fact that students are being led to believe that their worldviews are safe from criticism or scrutiny results in a growing population of ignorant and close-minded people. University administrators have abdicated their responsibility as defenders of open inquiry and academic freedom in exchange for an environment that is anything but conducive to learning. Orwellian “free speech zones” populate campuses, dictating to students when and where their opinions may be voiced, often relegating them to poorly trafficked corners of the university’s campus.
And that is why we need academic freedom and open inquiry on college campuses. So what can you do to stem the tide? Host a Learn Liberty Free Speech Challenge on your campus!
All you have to do is request a free kit. Once it’s delivered, find a space on your campus to invite people to participate. Ask them to express their mostly deeply held opinions in the name of free speech and open inquiry, and use your cell phone camera to film the event!