Hearing Recap: Free Speech on Campus Edition
WASHINGTON, D.C., March 30, 2023
Yesterday’s Higher Education and Workforce Development Subcommittee hearing covered the degradation of constitutionally protected free speech on college campuses. Committee Republicans sent a strong message: It is our duty to uphold the First Amendment and stand strongly against campus free speech violations.
The American university system has become a breeding ground for illiberal thought. Videos continually emerge of students and faculty shouting down, canceling, doxing, disinviting, or even physically assaulting controversial speakers for their differing viewpoints.
As Rep. Bob Good (R-VA) pointed out, this is a relatively new phenomenon. It also happens to come almost exclusively from the Left.
Republican-invited witnesses had personal experience with these various intimidation tactics by woke college mobs. Witness Ilya Shapiro, the director of Constitutional Studies at the Manhattan Institute, retold a story of his run-in with intolerant students at the University of California Hastings College of Law. “They prevented the event from taking place, chanting and banging as if it were Occupy Wall Street,” he said. Mr. Shapiro added, “It’s the first time I’d ever been protested in more than a thousand speaking events and it’s a damning indictment of the state of academia.”
Another Republican-invited witness, Josiah Joner, Executive Editor of The Stanford Review, offered a reasoned perspective on his university’s recent viral protest and gave a rousing defense of free speech. “This is not a conservative issue, nor a liberal issue. This is the issue at the core of what defines our society in the United States through healthy dialogue and the free exchange of ideas at our colleges and universities,” stated Joner.
Yet, despite the plague of free speech violations on college campuses, the Democrat side of the aisle continually offered up red herring after red herring. Rep. Mark Takano went so far as to equate Chinese Communist Party (CCP) censorship of the Tiananmen Square Massacre with the actions of Governor DeSantis, a glaring and absurd mischaracterization.The conversation then elevated from student to administrative-level concerns, as conservative members expressed displeasure with DEI personnel who push, and many times compel, adherence to progressive orthodoxy versus promoting all viewpoints. Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) posed the open-ended question specifically concerning protecting religious freedom: “[There are] $190 billion a year that the federal government gives to colleges and universities. What can we do to stop universities from hiring DEI [who implement] woke programs that directly attack people of faith?”
It’s a question worth asking. Republicans like Subcommittee Chairman Burgess Owens (R-UT) are also adamant in their refusal to kow tow to woke campus culture and sit idly by while students’ free speech rights are degraded. “This committee should explore possible legislative avenues to create the right incentives to remind universities of the trust we give them when we fund them through our tax dollars,” said Chair Owens in his opening statement.
Republicans recognize that universities have abandoned their mission to equip students to discover truth and think for themselves. This trend threatens both our constitutionally guaranteed rights and the value of a college education. If the buck doesn’t stop here, it leads down a path towards more authority and tyranny.Bottom Line: Committee Republicans are resolute in restoring the spirit and letter of the First Amendment on college campuses.