Strange isn’t it? How those who seem to quote Orwell the most don’t recognize the signs of things he warned about taking place all around them? I was in junior high when I read Animal Farm and in high school when I read 1984. But I didn’t understand the full meaning of those warnings until I was well into my mid-twenties.
Universities are the cradle of free speech, where ideologies and ideas clash, where academics and activists can agree, disagree, or be disagreeable. This is particularly true in the United States, where the First Amendment zealously guards against government surveillance and intrusion into free speech.
Yet at hundreds of campuses across the country, administrators encourage students to report one another, or their professors, for speech protected by the First Amendment, or even mere political disagreements. The so-called “Bias Response Teams” reviewing these (often anonymous) reports typically include police officers, student conduct administrators and public relations staff who scrutinize the speech of activists and academics.
This sounds like the stuff of Orwell, although even he might have found the name “Bias Response Team” to be over-the-top.
Over the past year, I surveyed more than 230 such reporting systems for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and asked dozens of schools for records about their Bias Response Teams. What I found is detailed in a new report describing how universities broadly define “bias” to include virtually any speech, protected or not, that subjectively offends anyone. On many campuses, administrators are called upon to referee whether speech is polite.
The threat to expressive rights isn’t confined to speech from the Left or the Right. Bias reporting systems are being used to report all kinds of speech.
At Appalachian State University, students reported on one another for chalked messages that were pro-Trump as well as chalked messages calling Trump a “RACIST.” The former were reported by students as “hate speech,” the latter “politically biased slander” that was “unlawful.”
While students at Ohio State University reported each other for comparing Hillary Clinton to Hitler, students at Texas Tech were whispering to administrators that the Black Student Union’s tweets in support of the Black Lives Matter movement offended them. Meanwhile, the University of Oregon saw it fit to dictate “community expectations” to students who had the audacity to complain about oppression.
Yes, complaining about oppression may bring the Bias Response Team to your dorm room to explain why your views were insufficiently polite, decent, and non-controversial.
These are just a few of the examples we’ve published so far, and over the next several weeks we plan on publishing more on our website.
University, the one place where students are meant to have their ideas challenged. The one place where they’re supposed to grow in not only in mental capacity, but in emotional capacity. The one place where being ‘safe’ is the farthest thing from a freshman’s mind as they generally start to engage in sexual exploration and underage drinking (or at least a good portion of them).
One thing is certain in this midst of Bolshevik like tactics where students are encouraged to rat on each others like a bunch of children reporting a curse word to the teacher. Universities will be able to make a killing in profit if they advertise themselves as a campus that supports free speech, no safe spaces, and a curriculum that doesn’t leave parents in fear of their children coming home over the Christmas holiday spouting Marxist ideas.
The market for universities to regain control of the narrative is ripe and for the taking. But will they take advantage of it? Who knows…