The First Amendment wasn’t created to protect the interests of the rich and powerful. After all, the moneyed and influential have historically been protected by their wealth and power. And the United States didn’t need a special right to protect the will of a majority—that’s what democratic votes are for.
In the end, the First Amendment is primarily needed to protect minority views, unpopular opinions, and the expression of those who clash with the ruling elite.
But on campus today, you’re likely to hear this argument turned entirely on its head—as if championing free speech is somehow doing the bidding of the powerful. But that’s only because academia doesn’t like to admit that it actually is extremely wealthy and influential itself, or that those who defend the status quo are defending an extraordinarily powerful American industry.
Just for some perspective, the market size of the U.S. higher education industry is just over $1 trillion. That’s more than three times larger than the U.S. food and beverage industry and over two times the size of the U.S. electricity industry. For more context, Canada’s GDP in 2021 was $1.9 trillion, Mexico’s $1.3 trillion, and the global pharmaceuticals industry rang in around $1.4 trillion in that same year.
Meanwhile, the collective endowment of U.S. public and private nonprofit universities—which represents just one element of their total assets—sits at $932 billion, according to their 2021 reports. That’s nearly as much as all of Apple’s, Microsoft’s, and Amazon’s total assets. (Plus, you can add in higher education’s $711 billion in tangible assets.)