Freedom of Speech: Why We NEED Academic Freedom

What are the threats to free speech and free inquiry on college campuses today? Academic Freedom—the ability to freely pursue knowledge and inquiry on campus—is under attack, and it’s important for students to push back.

This is video explains why academic freedom matters. Academic freedom means the right of everyone in the academic community to pursue truth and wisdom, and to reach conclusions according to his or her own rights. Harvard students’ Op-Ed is symptomatic of much broader trends across academia in recent decades. We’ve seen speech administrations establishing speech codes to tell students what they’re allowed to say.

And free speech zones to tell them where they’re allowed to say it. This justification is usually to create a safe space for learning, but advocates forget that a fundamental way to learn is to encounter ideas with which you disagree. Encountering an argument you oppose will either shift your thinking, or broaden and deepen your understanding of your own beliefs.

Either way, such encounters foster learning and critical thinking. And they help you to grow. But too many people on campus seem afraid to hear opinions that with which they disagree or which they find offensive. Lectures and panel discussions are getting cancelled or disrupted because some students have found the speakers objectionable.

This includes speakers from across the political spectrum. Including Condoleezza Rice, Janet Napolitano, Charles Murray, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Christine Lagarde, George Will, and even the Chancellor of the University of California to name just a few. Such intolerance is harmful because it undermines the fundamental constitutional and moral right to speak your mind with intellectual honestly.

But it’s especially harmful on college campuses, where it suffocates the pursuit of truth that necessarily relies upon vibrant debate and varied research in order to breathe. You can’t have free inquiry if some groups have been empowered to bully others into thinking like them. As the famous educator, Alexander Meiklejohn, wrote, to be afraid of an idea, any idea, is to be unfit for self-government.

People who support free speech and open inquiry need to speak out and organize in order to save the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech, which should be at the heart of any University. It’s time for a new free speech movement.