I’ve criticized both the left and right for failing to uphold the principles of free expression over the years. In New York’s City Hall, I strongly defended a Brooklyn university when it sponsored a speech by an advocate of the BDS movement, which promotes economic war against the state of Israel through boycotts, divestment and sanctions. I couldn’t disagree more strongly with those in the BDS movement—but I also couldn’t believe more strongly in their right to free speech. I’ve always found that those whose speech we find most objectionable are those whose rights we’re most responsible for defending.
Every generation faces its own bouts with censorship. In my youth, it was Sen. Joe McCarthy’s hunt for communists. I can still vividly remember his questions (“Are you now or have you ever been . . .?”). Today, censorship is coming from both sides of the political aisle, but only one side is writing it into law.
Professors in Florida have sued to block the Stop Woke Act, and let us hope judges will soon strike it down as an abridgment of the First Amendment. Some professors, however, have also urged students to boycott a new state survey meant to gauge whether colleges are hostile to viewpoint diversity. That’s a mistake. Florida’s censorship law is wrong, but it’s a reaction to the very real problem of campus intolerance. The more that students speak out about it—even if anonymously through surveys—the more pressure it puts on administrators to address it.
Higher education is rooted in intellectual exploration. Colleges that don’t expose students to challenging and uncomfortable ideas fail their pupils. The same applies to governments that attempt to block professors from offering their insights or forcing them to teach material as though all theories—like evolution and creationism—should be given equal weight.
The sad irony is that many of the same people who have accused millennial and Gen Z students of being snowflakes—those unable to handle discomforting ideas—are now acting like the most delicate snowflakes of all.
The solution to political repression isn’t more political repression. It’s freedom. Truth has nothing to fear from free speech—on college campuses, or anywhere else.