Free speech is necessary for society to function — that is, all speech.
Last week, students who attend the University of Wisconsin made headlines for creating a violent video depicting the beheading of a cop to promote their clothing line. This argument is not about director Eneale Pickett’s ideology — it is about whether or not he had a right, or free speech, to do so.
For both liberals and conservatives, free speech is the “right” of every individual living in the land of the red, white and blue. Well, as long as the individual believes, agrees and says the same thing as their respective clans do.
News flash —that’s not what the First Amendment is about.
Let me repeat, both sides of the aisle are awful about understanding what free speech is, such as University of California-Berkeley, Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, the NFL, NFL fans and college students.
Today’s liberals are even worse about it because they call themselves the party of “inclusion,” yet struggle to live up to it. According to a recent survey conducted by the liberal think tank Brookings Institution’s senior fellow John Villasenor, 62 percent of Democratic students find it acceptable to shout at a controversial speaker to prevent the audience from hearing them speak. Meanwhile, only 39 percent of Republicans agree. Do the individuals who shout have the right to shout, absolutely — but it’s hypocritical.
Pickett and his team had every right to produce the bloody and violent video — and the majority, if not all, agree on that principle. So, why is Ben Shapiro or Milo Yiannopoulos’s right to speak on campus met with hostility, fear and violence? Free speech isn’t supposed to make you feel nice and warm inside, but make you feel uncomfortable. I thought the American principle of the First Amendment was about diversity and allowing individuals to express their disagreement.
These attacks on free speech have caused many liberals and conservatives to rebrand themselves into classical liberals, where the idea of disagreement is valued, debate is encouraged and the exchange of ideas the basic principle of free speech.
So, why is free speech suddenly so controversial? Blame universities.
According to a study from Econ Journal Watch, in 2016, liberals vastly outnumber conservative professors, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans 3,623 to 314 at the 40 leading universities. This past May, right leaning Young America’s Foundation conducted research into the commencement speeches and found the top 100 national colleges favored liberals (45 to 4). The number, however, is a bit skewed because not all of the top 100 Universities were included — 29 speakers were in the middle of the ideology spectrum and 22 schools had a diverse set of speakers or none at all.
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In 2006, Neil Gross and sociologist Solon Simmons conducted a survey to look at the “diverse” ideology of university professors. Writing in an oped 10 years later for the Los Angeles Times, he wrote “At the time of our study, a fifth of all American adults described themselves as liberal. Simmons and I found that about half of the faculty did.” Gross went on to write, “only 14 percent of professors in our survey identified as Republican. Academia isn’t teeming with radicals, but it is one of the most liberal occupations in the U.S.”
It goes further than just the ideology of professors. According to Harvard University Institute of Politics, 21 percent of College Republicans fear censorship or negative repercussions when sharing their beliefs. Only 8 percent of Democrats and 14 percent of Independents feel the same way. To provide more context, 56 percent of Democrats, 50 percent of Republicans, and 48% of Independents feel comfortable sharing their beliefs.
Earlier this year, The Badger Herald’s current managing editor Teymour Tomsyck wrote a piece examining the very issue of intellectual diversity at UW. The most striking aspect of the article was a quote by UW free speech expert Donald Downs: “Is there a lack of intellectual diversity on campus? I think there’s no question about that.”
I know some will argue that more conservatives need to enter the field of academia. As I completely agree with that, they should also be hired regardless if their religious or political views are different. Why do I say that? According to Tomsyck’s article, there’s a tendency among conservative professors to censor themselves or even leave off work experience on their resume that would label themselves as conservative.
What type of environment is this if individuals have to hide their beliefs, life experiences and opinions? They are afraid of the very people who hold up signs that read “Love Trumps Hate.”
Students aren’t receiving the education of what liberalism stands for — defined as different, multicultural and diverse. Students are surrounded by the same repeating leftist voice.
It’s not colorful. It’s not diverse. It’s not inclusive. It’s that simple — and the evidence clearly illustrates it.
This causes many students to be offended too easily and to not be intellectually challenged. Liberal and conservative students, liberals in particular, are so afraid of opposing viewpoints that they attack free speech because of what? Not agreeing with the individual speaking or they are offended by the comments made. In fact, when students are actually exposed to the real world of diversity, they become ugly and violent. Where has the idea of diversity gone?
This becomes a dangerous “my way or the highway” ideology.
This a direct result of the lack of diverse opinions in universities from the individual’s leadership roles to the professors who teach and are hired. This instills fear in individuals for speaking their mind. Students don’t hear other opinions and are taught to not value hearing other opinions. This new toxic environment is the exact opposite of liberalism and causes a free society to fail.
You might ask, how bad can it get or am I just inventing a problem? NPR published a story in late August that North Texas is becoming a hot bed for conservatives fleeing liberal blue states like California. That’s a direct result of the classroom being colorless and preaching a common perspective. Think about it, one area of the country is increasingly becoming bluer and other redder.
The classic liberal worldview I value of disagreement, debate and the exchange of ideas is shrinking. Culture and diversity are supposed to make you a more rounded individual and shape your intellect — that is why universities exist. But if only one voice echoes through the classrooms while silencing others, then it is a brainwashing institution.
Colleges have built a liberal monopoly when it comes to the exchange of ideas. Rather than promote diversity and disagreement, speech is met with hostility. Free speech —vibrant intellectual and political discourse — is necessary for a society to function and individuals to flourish. The moment we begin to challenge that idea, we fail.
Steven Jotterand ([email protected]) is a junior studying journalism.