Despite many campuses shutting down this semester to mitigate the spread of COVID-19—and many graduation ceremonies being canceled—the Class of 2020 will still graduate this spring. The Class of 2020 began college just before the polarizing 2016 presidential election and now graduates in the middle of a global pandemic.
But the Class of 2020 also attended college during a very interesting time for freedom of expression and academic freedom in America. In her new Forbes column, IHS president Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright writes,
“How does this student generation—the first generation who attended college after the 2015 publication of Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s viral “The Coddling of the American Mind” article, and while the Chicago Principles were ascendant on the national level—feel about freedom of expression?”– Dr. Chamlee-Wright
As Dr. Chamlee-Wright notes, the last few years have brought mixed news to everyone concerned about the state of free speech and academic freedom on American college campuses.
“On one hand, we’ve seen fewer speaker disinvitations and campus protests escalating into national news stories. At the beginning of 2019, Acadia University’s Jeffrey Adam Sachs declared the ‘Campus Free Speech Crisis’ over. ‘[T]here are hopeful signs that a new culture of tolerance is taking hold on campus,’ Sachs wrote.”– Dr. Chamlee-Wright
But on the other hand, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s recent survey on free expression suggests that during classroom discussions, conservative students are almost three times as likely to self-censor as their liberal peers.
In assessing student attitudes toward free expression, Dr. Chamlee-Wright looks to the new book Free Speech and Liberal Education by Donald Downs, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and longtime IHS faculty partner.
Downs notes that speech-related blow-ups on campus attract more attention than intellectual tolerance, which happens quietly. Toleration is the bell that doesn’t ring. We hear about the protests, disinvitations, and faculty firings. We do not hear, as Downs says, ‘about the countless encounters where repression does not occur.– Dr. Chamlee-Wright