Bruce Thornton at VDH Private Papers has a great discussion of the just-released on-line guide by Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) on Free Speech on Campus (www.fireguides.org). FIRE has been working tirelessly to protect the free speech rights of students caught up in the repressive intellectual atmospheres of many university and colleges these days.
Universities are vocal in their assertions that they are protected spaces nurturing of "free inquiry," "academic freedom," "diversity," "dialogue," and "tolerance," and that they welcome all views, no matter how far from the mainstream. The prospective student is led to believe that, as the Guide puts it, "Regardless of your background," college is "the one place where you could go and hear almost anything—the one place where speech truly was free, where ideas were tried and tested under the keen and critical eye of peers and scholars, where reason and values, not coercion, decided debate."
But when the sometimes impressionable and naïve freshman actually arrives on campus, he or she finds a different reality. The student quickly learns that "America's colleges and universities are all too often dedicated more to indoctrination and censorship than to freedom and individual self-government." The loudly lauded ideals of "diversity" and "tolerance" in fact often camouflage a rigid orthodoxy that only the most confident and assertive of young adults are likely to challenge.
In true Orwellian fashion, "In order to ensure 'diversity' and 'tolerance,' [the university] will censor and silence those who are different or independent."
This is sad, but true. Having spent a good portion of my intellectual life on campus, I have witnessed firsthand how "diversity" works in practice--and it ain't a pretty picture.
As the Guide puts it, quoting John Milton, "If any institution on earth should be 'the mansion house of liberty,' trusting in 'a free and open encounter' of truth and error, it should be higher education in a free society." It is a sad indictment of our intellectual corruption that higher education has taken the lead in attempting to make sure that "free and open encounters" occur only within strictly defined and ideologically biased parameters. But it is heartening to know that organizations like FIRE are actively fighting to make colleges and universities live up not just to their own ideals but also to the fundamental values of our republic.