The Growing Right-Wing Threat to Campus Free Speech - 2019-09-19
When it comes to free speech on American campuses, there seems to be a law of conservation at work: Just when the internal threat of censorship from left-wing campus activists is abating, the external threat from right-wing lawmakers starts rising. Given that the new threat relies not on the decibel level of immature 18-year-olds but the state power of motivated adults, it may be much harder to fight.
Concerns about political correctness on campus date back at least 25 years before Philip Roth wrote The Human Stain, his brilliant novel depicting the travails of a half-black classics professor pretending to be Jewish who gets summarily fired after black students take offense over his use of the word "spooks." But after a brief hiatus, these concerns came back with a vengeance in the last decade, at least partly because a well-oiled right-wing machine emerged to pounce on every student transgression—big and small, real and imagined, in order to paint a picture of a "free speech crisis" in academia.
Consider the experience of Ursinus College's Jonathan Marks, a conservative professor who writes extensively about higher education: He recounts with amusement how first The College Fix, a right-wing campus watchdog website, and then Breitbart picked up a piece he wrote for Commentary earlier this year making fun of California State Fresno's new faculty and staff rules prescribing that "everyone be nice to each other." Both outfits distorted the story and blamed students who had nothing to do with the rules, because that was better aligned with their narrative of easily triggered snowflakes demanding safe spaces. The College Fix appended a grudging "update" after some coaxing from Marks, but Breitbart didn't bother. "If you investigated the dental profession with as much intensity as college campuses and devoted entire websites to covering it, you could come up with lots of bad things too," he laughs.