One has to wonder whether the academic left does not understand the concept of free speech or merely pretends to not understand. A recent article in Inside Higher Ed fails to answer that question.
One senses that reporter Scott Jaschik, like other pundits in the higher ed community, knows that relentless speech suppression on campus is an ongoing source of embarrassment. It pains him even more, however, that President Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is the one most publicly calling attention to the phenomenon.
“Freedom of thought and speech on the American campus are under attack. Of all places, the college campus should be where debate and discussion should be appreciated and honored. But nowhere has there been more arbitrary and capricious restrictions on free speech than in supposedly educational institutions,” Jaschik quoted Sessions as telling a group of students at Turning Point USA’s High School Leadership Summit.
Sessions challenged the use of “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” and other university sanctioned debate suppressors. “Too many schools are coddling our young people and actively preventing them from scrutinizing the validity of their beliefs,” Sessions argued.
To offset Sessions’ common sense remarks, Jaschik plays his trump card. “Given the attorney general’s concerns on campus free expression, Inside Higher Ed asked the Justice Department if Sessions would have anything to say about the University of Kansas,” he writes triumphantly. “The department’s response: ‘DOJ declines to comment.'”
As Jaschik tells his “gotcha” story, the University of Kansas “took down a piece of art that was displayed outside — a U.S. flag with drawings on it.” This followed a demand by Gov. Jeff Colyer that the “art” be taken down. Jaschik leads the reader to believe that Sessions is guilty of high level hypocrisy for failing to scold KU.
There are two major flaws in Jaschik’s reasoning. First, and most importantly, he refuses to acknowledge the difference between encouraging free speech and subsidizing it. The university had sanctioned and supported the art in question. In doing so, university officials put their seal of approval on the project. It wasn’t just the artist speaking. It was KU speaking.
The secondary flaw is that the “art” was inflammatory and highly offensive to most of the citizens whose taxes support the university. In terms of pure offensiveness it would rival a university in Saudi Arabia sanctioning an image of Muhammad with a clown nose.
In the Muhammad case, no university even in America would allow such a display. No liberal media anywhere, Inside High Ed included, would defend such an artist. He would promptly be expelled or fired, if not assassinated.
As it is, Kansans tolerate an inordinate amount of offensive speech on campus, but it is no longer a question of free speech when they are being forced to pay for it.