Questions for the House’s Campus Free Expression Hearing
The mission of our nation’s higher education institutions is research, teaching, and preparing the next generation for citizenship and civic leadership. A culture of free expression is essential to the success of this mission. Yet, the culture for free expression and open inquiry is being strained by intense polarization, social media, and concerns that campuses cannot fully honor free expression without compromising commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Campus Free Expression Project works to restore open discourse on college campuses in order to create independent thinkers and engaged citizens. In late 2021, BPC’s Academic Leaders Task Force on Campus Free Expression, co-chaired by two former governors, brought together presidents and academic leaders from a diverse range of colleges and universities published its report, Campus Free Expression: A New Roadmap. The Academic Leaders Task Force report has been cited by higher education institutions across the country, including the University of Wisconsin System and the Virginia Council of Presidents.
As the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development prepares to hold its hearing on “Diversity of Thought: Protecting Free Speech on College Campuses,” BPC’s Campus Free Expression Project offers the following questions:
- We’ve all seen the headline-generating shout-downs of campus speakers, most recently at Stanford Law. While some say that these are rare events on just a few campuses, the 2022 Knight-Ipsos College Student Views on Free Expression and Campus Speech national survey found one-third of students support speech codes; a quarter favor disinviting speakers whose speech is perceived as offensive or biased; and one-fifth favor restricting the expression of political views that are offensive or upsetting. Concurrently, public confidence in higher education has eroded, and now some states are considering legislation to regulate academic freedom, tenure, and curricula. Are universities abdicating their responsibilities as stewards of open inquiry? These state legislatures seem to think so. If you believe that universities should not be dictated to on these matters, what should they do to regain lawmakers’ trust and confidence in their leadership?
- Higher education institutions have an important role in preparing students to join America’s diverse workforce where colleagues’ and customers’ backgrounds and views may differ from their own. However, a 2022 NBC News and Generation Lab survey of college sophomores found: 54% wouldn’t room with someone who supported the other presidential candidate in the 2020 election; 62% of college students “probably” or “definitely” would not work for a company that made financial donations to a cause at odds with their values. The polarization of young people is bipartisan: a 2020 Cato Institute survey found 44% of those under 30 favored firing an executive who donated to former President Donald Trump, while 27% of those under 30 favored firing an executive who donated to President Joe Biden’s campaign. What should higher education institutions do to foster student skills and habits of mind to prepare students to be productive in communities and workplaces where others will disagree with them on important issues?
- Some say that free expression must be curtailed to create a campus climate that is diverse and inclusive. The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Academic Leaders Task Force on Campus Free Expression’s 2021 report, Campus Free Expression: A New Roadmap makes the case that free expression “is an essential means to an inclusive campus” and “ultimately a liberalizing and inclusive force.” How can higher education institutions fully honor both commitments to freedom of expression and to diversity, equity, and inclusion?
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