Champions of campus intellectual freedom now play a Whac-A-Mole game. The University imposes an unconstitutional speech code, organizations like F.I.R.E threaten litigation, the university drops the code and instead creates a tiny “free speech zone” that requires one month prior written permission for its use. Then, when that ruse is exposed, the university forms “bias reporting teams” to encourage anybody “offended” by anything, expressed by anybody, to file an official grievance. Since the university’s repertoire of anti-free speech measures is sizeable, the Whac-A-Mole game is endless. Indeed, I suspect a secret committee of neo-Stalinst functionaries daily invents novel ways to kill free speech.
So for the really bad news: even if we could shut down the administrators’ Whac-A-Mole strategy, the freedom of expression needle would move only slightly. So many moles to whac, so little time. Let’s not ignore the students themselves disrupting “controversial” speakers like Charles Murray or threatening violence against “haters” so universities cave by citing “security concerns” or demand extra fees to hire additional police. Further add the timid politically correct faculty terrified of accidentally speaking the truth.
Now, to quote Lenin, what is to be done? Surprise of surprises: restoring honest intellectual debate is fairly simple and hardly requires reigning in Stalinist administrators, controlling troublemaking students or replacing politically correct faculty. And, for good measure, it would be cheap and could be implemented almost immediately. Really!
Begin with a critical distinction: the quest should be creating intellectual freedom for college students, whether or not this occurs on the campus. The campus is not the exclusive venue permitting vigorous, truthful intellectual debate. In effect, those who assume today’s campuses are the place for this enterprise concede victory to all the little Torquemadas-in-training who, to use a sports parallel, enjoy the home field advantage since they write the rulebook.
Here’s the solution. First, truth seeking is not about promoting an ideology. Forget about safe spaces for silenced conservatives or enticing schools to hire business-friendly professors. Embracing a conservative political agenda might simplify fund-raising, but let’s not substitute one orthodoxy for another.
Second, success depends on moving everything off campus. Eliminate all university trade-marked names, logos, symbols or even e-mail addresses (use gmail). Renting any university-owned property will tempt administrators to claim oversight and that will stifle free expression. If outside funds are to be solicited, tell the donors to never give it to the university where it will be disbursed with dozens of suffocating regulations attached (just ask Christian groups about admitting atheists).
Rely on the rights associated with private property, not the First Amendment. Better to pay $100 for Patty’s Ye Old Gin Mill’s basement than request a freebie at the Student Union. And if threats of disruption occur, ask Patty to send down the upstairs regulars (a.k.a. Drunks for Trump) to evict disruptors (keep in mind that Patty, more than any Dean, has a keen interest in booting out disruptors since running a “disorderly house” risks his liquor license). Never depend on campus police, particularly if they have undergone mandatory sensitivity training.
Stay under the radar. Choose a bland name like “The Galileo Society” and charge a modest, non-refundable $25.00 (or more) in membership dues and require everyone to agree, in writing, to abide by the rules of civility (no ideological litmus test). Limit all Galileo Society events to member only. Anybody who wants to attend Charles Murray’s talk on race and IQ, must pay the $25.00 dues and sign the civility pledge.
Lastly, invite speakers whose views contravene the campus orthodoxies. Hardly arduous to invite such speakers, many would speak for free and might be enticed to stay over for a few extra days to socialize with students. Think tanks are excellent sources of speakers and may subsidize their expenses. Want contrarian views of climate change? Ask the Heartland Institute about inviting an expert. Want to learn about free market solutions to America’s economic woes? I’m sure CATO would be happy to help, including paying expenses.
Furthermore add discussions centered on specific public policies (e.g., the Oxford Union). Think tanks across the ideological spectrum publish dozens of informed, well-crafted policy papers and these might serve as the basis for a nightly meeting. No need to hope that some wimpy professors will chicken out of discussing a hot-button issue like racial differences in how the police are viewed.
The ultimate goal, of course, would be to extend this off-campus approach nationwide and I’m sure that these groups will soon be bombarded with offers of available speakers. No need to have a single name, a central bureaucracy, legal in corporation or coterie of rich benefactors who might blackball “controversial” invitees. The aim is creating an alternative universe of intellectually curious youngsters with a taste for the taboo in a world dominated by PC.
It is often said that one can be well-educated without a BA. No doubt, a particularly erudite person will one day be asked how he managed to be so knowledgeable in so little time. The answer might be “I spent hundreds of hours in Patty’s basement drinking beer and just paid attention. Better than attending class.”
One last suggestion: the battle is not to force Stalinist administrators or the useful idiot cupcake nation to grant freedom of expression. Nor must we plead with professors to add “offensive” topics to their syllabus, let alone speak truthfully. We already enjoy the rights of free expression and freedom to learn about forbidden topics; we do not need to attend college to bestow these rights. It’s just a matter of executing these pre-existing rights, not acquiring them by filing a lawsuit. Does this logic sound familiar to students of the American Revolution?
To this end, let’s circulate a campus petition explicitly stating that the right to honest and open intellectual is not a Right granted to students by administrators. These functionaries can only impede it, not grant it. The petition will then justify why such discourse must be off-campus and include the following line: To prove, let Facts be submitted to a candid world. (And here I present only a possible sampling.)
- The administration has imposed such numerous and odious rules whose only purpose is to stifle our Right to express views in a forthright manner.
- The administration has squandered tuition on noxious schemes lacking any intellectual value whose only purpose is to pacify those who reject scholarly pursuits.
- The administration has by its passivity aided and abetted the machinations of those who would forcefully impede the pursuit of Truth.
- The administration has compelled enrollment in courses bereft any intellectual content whose only purpose is indoctrination to views antithetical to a free and orderly society.
- The administration has ignored its sacred obligation to scholarship by unwisely promoting distractions unrelated to the University’s intellectual mission.
- The administration has subordinated intellectual excellence to pursue the Pox of racial/ethnic diversity whose purpose is unclear and divisive.
- The administration has exceeded its powers granted to it as an academic entity by regulating the purely private speech and behavior of its students.
And so on…..
To this end, we the undersigned, hereby declare that the university will no longer be the exclusive arbitrator of our intellectual pursuits with the power to determine the Life of our Minds.
What are the odds of the administration permitting this petition to be circulated on campus?