On Thursday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to “promote free and open debate on college and university campuses.” Trump said the order was the first in a series of steps to defend free speech on American campuses which, he said, have become increasingly hostile to the First Amendment.
Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci, professors of developmental phycology at Cornell University, have written about the treatment of controversial topics on campus. When it comes to topics some people find offensive, they say, college campuses today are hardly bastions of free speech.
Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci say:
“Legal speech, protected by the First Amendment, can nevertheless be grounds for censure and even termination of employment at colleges and universities across the U.S. Professors, students, and staff who state opinions questioning or at odds with left-wing values can become targets of attacks ranging from protests and picketing to physical assault.
“Free and open debate is the foundation of the modern academy, but academic life today is intolerant of opinions representing truly divergent views. Diversity is woven into virtually every aspect of the academy, except for meaningful viewpoint diversity. In the modern academy, ‘hate speech’ has come to be defined as ‘speech someone deems odious, personally offensive, and politically wrong’—however, this type of speech is legally protected.
“Most Americans hear the term ‘hate speech’ and think of racial and ethnic slurs, but on campuses today the ‘hate speech’ label is attached to discussions of Blue Lives Matter, affirmative action, and immigration, for example.
“College campuses today are hardly bastions of free speech and open debate when it comes to topics some people find offensive. Recent targets include Brett Weinstein and Samuel Abrams—faculty who broke no laws, but held views considered objectionable, and thus found their opinions labeled ‘hate speech.”