Why’s There So Little Free Speech on Campus?

by Thomas Sowell

by Thomas Sowell: Genes
and Racism

While it is
not possible to answer all the e-mails and letters from readers,
many are thought-provoking, whether those thoughts are positive
or negative.

An e-mail from
one young man simply asked for the sources of some facts about gun
control that were mentioned in a recent column. It is good to check
out the facts – especially if you check out the facts on both sides
of an issue.

By contrast,
another man simply denounced me because of what was said in that
column. He did not ask for my sources but simply made contrary assertions,
as if his assertions must be correct and therefore mine must be

He identified
himself as a physician, and the claims that he made about guns were
claims that had been made years ago in a medical journal – and thoroughly
discredited since then. He might have learned that, if we had engaged
in a back and forth discussion, but it was clear from his letter
that his goal was not debate but denunciation. That is often the
case these days.

It is always
amazing how many serious issues are not discussed seriously, but
instead simply generate assertions and counter-assertions. On television
talk shows, people on opposite sides often just try to shout each
other down.

There is a
remarkable range of ways of seeming to argue without actually producing
any coherent argument.

Decades of
dumbed-down education no doubt have something to do with this, but
there is more to it than that. Education is not merely neglected
in many of our schools today, but is replaced to a great extent
by ideological indoctrination. Moreover, it is largely indoctrination
based on the same set of underlying and unexamined assumptions among
teachers and institutions.

If our educational
institutions – from the schools to the universities – were as interested
in a diversity of ideas as they are obsessed with racial diversity,
students would at least gain experience in seeing the assumptions
behind different visions and the role of logic and evidence in debating
those differences.

Instead, a
student can go all the way from elementary school to a Ph.D. without
encountering any fundamentally different vision of the world from
that of the prevailing political correctness.

Moreover, the
moral perspective that goes with this prevailing ideological view
is all too often that of people who see themselves as being on the
side of the angels against the forces of evil – whether the particular
issue at hand is gun control, environmentalism, race or whatever.

A moral monopoly
is the antithesis of a marketplace of ideas. One sign of this sense
of moral monopoly among the left intelligentsia is that the institutions
most under their control – the schools, colleges and universities
– have far less freedom of speech than the rest of American society.

While advocacy
of homosexuality, for example, is common on college campuses, and
listening to this advocacy is often obligatory during freshman orientation,
criticism of homosexuality is called “hate speech” that is subject
to punishment.

While spokesmen
for various racial or ethnic groups are free to vehemently denounce
whites as a group for their past or present sins, real or otherwise,
any white student who similarly denounces the sins or shortcomings
of non-white groups can be virtually guaranteed to be punished,
if not expelled.

students who do not advocate anything can have to pay a price if
they do not go along with classroom brainwashing. The student at
Florida Atlantic University who recently declined to stomp on a
paper with the word “Jesus” on it, as ordered by the professor,
was scheduled for punishment by the university until the story became
public and provoked an outcry from outside academia.

This professor’s
action might be dismissed as an isolated extreme, but the university
establishment’s initial solid backing for him, and its coming down
hard on the student, shows that the moral dry rot goes far deeper
than one brainwashing professor.

The failure
of our educational system goes beyond what they fail to teach. It
includes what they do teach, or rather indoctrinate, and the graduates
they send out into the world, incapable of seriously weighing alternatives
for themselves or for American society.

1, 2013

Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford
University. His Web site is www.tsowell.com.
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