The parents and newly admitted students visiting colleges this month are asking questions about social life, study habits and — everyone’s favorite topic these days — job prospects after graduation. These are all important subjects, but if you care about your child’s intellectual development, or just want to keep the kid out of trouble, you should also ask about the university’s attitudes toward free speech.
For more than a decade I’ve been on the board of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil-liberties watchdog group that defends the rights of college students and faculty. As you probably assumed, many cases FIRE gets involved in stem from “politically correct” censorship; but the range of university abuses is much wider than that. The motives often have less to do with ideology than with administrative bullying, paranoia or stupidity.
To take a particularly absurd example, in January a Bergen Community College professor was placed on leave after he posted on Google+ a photograph of his young daughter wearing a “Game of Thrones” T-shirt with the quote, “I will take what is mine with fire & blood.” An administrator deemed the photo a disturbing threat of violence.