DeVos Urges Campuses to Promote Free Speech


A few days ago, someone leaked a draft of the Education Department’s proposed new Title IX regulations. The document seeks to use federal authority to ensure that universities employ fairer procedures when adjudicating sexual misconduct claims. Today, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—quite appropriately—took a different approach to the issue of free speech on campus. Rejecting the idea of a “speech police” from the Department of Education, DeVos instead used the power of the bully pulpit to urge universities to create an environment that welcomes discourse, even on controversial issues.

DeVos’ Constitution Day speech worried that “precious few campuses can be described” as promoting a “free and open” intellectual environment. She cited several examples; perhaps the most troubling of her list was last year’s incident at William & Mary University, where Black Lives Matters protesters successfully shut down a talk—intended to celebrate free speech and the First Amendment!—by a representative of the ACLU. (Reason’s Robby Soave had excellent coverage of the affair.)

DeVos sharply criticized administrators for too often seeking to undermine, rather than promote, free speech on campus. (She especially worried about what she saw as the abuse of security fees as a way of shutting down controversial speakers whose views might challenge the perspective of the campus majority.) Administrators, DeVos feared, too often “attempt to shield students from ideas they subjectively decide are ‘hateful’ or ‘offensive’ or ‘injurious’ or ones they just don’t like”—a patronizing approach that the Education Secretary convincingly argued harms, rather than enhances, a typical student’s educational experience.