State Rep. John Andrews has introduced L.D. 665, a proposal that would eliminate free-speech zones on campus. Such zones are flatly unconstitutional – period, no debate. If a public college or university takes government money, it is required to comply with the First Amendment. Ergo, the entire campus is a free-speech zone, not just a delegated spatial area.

Why, then, are there so many colleges throughout the country with free-speech zones? The answer is: Because they can get away with it. Students do not have the money to take the matter to court, where a judge would quickly rule against an unconstitutional speech zone

But the real issue about the denial of free speech on campus is not free-speech zones: It is student disruptions. All it takes to stop free speech on campus is a single cowbell. The bell ringing – or loudly yelling protesters – shuts down the auditorium, making it impossible for a speaker to continue. If bell ringers are antifa members, there’s nothing the school can do about it except eject them from the auditorium. If protesters are students, the college could expel them from school for the rest of the semester. But few, if any, college presidents would have the fortitude to do this.

There is another proposed solution to more free speech on campus: To promote free-wheeling debate on campus, colleges might consider hiring more Republican or conservative faculty members. But this can’t be done: Asking an applicant applying for a teaching job, “Are you a conservative or a liberal?” is inappropriate and probably illegal. These applicants are applying to be professors, not politicians.

We know from frequent polls that the overwhelming majority of professors in the humanities – something on the order of nine out of 10 – are left leaning politically. I have a doctorate in English language and literature from the University of Michigan. When I taught at Eastern Michigan University, I was the only Republican among 77 English professors. Their politics seeped through into the classroom.  As E.B. White, who lived and wrote in Maine, observed: “I have never seen a piece of writing, political or nonpolitical, that doesn’t have a slant. It slants the way a writer leans, and no man is born perpendicular.”

If we can eliminate free-speech zones, but cannot totally prevent bell ringers or student screamers in the auditorium and can’t hire more conservative humanities professors, what can be done?

We can encourage our children to stand up against the stifling political conformity and let them know it’s OK if they’re penalized for their principled stand. When my daughter started college, I wrote her a letter, saying in part: “A few of your professors will be militant, intolerant disasters, yet they will be ostensibly intelligent and far more articulate than you. So what should you do?

“First, recognize these bad apples and don’t let yourself, as Joseph Conrad warned, be assaulted by the powers of darkness. Second, avoid them if you can. Third, if you can’t avoid them, don’t let them guilt sling you. Most of their indoctrinations will fall under the rubric of so-called ‘diversity’ – and how, they will ask you, can you possibly be against diversity? Fourth, and here’s the tough one, how should you react in a class with a bad apple? If you go along with him or her, you have been dishonest with your principles and yourself. If you don’t go along, you may well be punished with low grades and public ridicule in the classroom. . . . Remain honest to yourself and your principles; this takes real courage, which is the most demanding of all virtues.”


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