4 Questions to Ask Your College (or Your Kid's College) If You Care About Intellectual Freedom

Former Reason Editor in Chief and current Bloomberg View columnist Virginia Postrel offers up "four specific questions that demand factual answers" to gauge a college or university's commitment to the free and open exchange of ideas.

The whole list is a must-read but this one caught my eye especially because it's so true and generally underappreciated:

3) What is the administrator-to-professor ratio? How much has that grown in the last 10 years?

This question illuminates where the university’s priorities lie -- in teaching and research or in overhead -- while also offering a clue about attitudes toward academic freedom and students’ rights. Administrators, not professors, are the ones making and enforcing rules against speech. They are the ones more concerned with maintaining order and a shiny institutional image than with intellectual inquiry and the marketplace of ideas.

“The administrative class is largely responsible for the hyperregulation of students’ lives, the lowering of due process standards for students accused of offenses, the extension of administrative jurisdiction far off campus, the proliferation of speech codes, and outright attempts to impose ideological conformity,” writes [Greg] Lukianoff in his book “Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate.” He argues that “the dramatic expansion of the administrative class on campus may be the most important factor in the growth of campus intrusions into free speech and thought.”

Read the whole thing.

Reason TV interviewed Postrel about her new book, The Power of Glamour, and much more. Watch below:

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    What is the administrator-to-professor ratio? How much has that grown in the last 10 years?

    It used to be student-to-professor ratio that was of concern.

  • Free Society||

    Sign of the times.

  • Geoff Nathan||

    Speaking as one of those administrators, it's not always about oppressing student opinion.

    Mostly it's about complying with federal regulations requiring universities to report minute details for every course. Reports are required for learning objectives, textbook ISBN numbers (required in April for courses that don't start till September), assessment plans and many, many other things.

    All of this crap requires infrastructure - specialized IT databases with easy interfaces, and someone with a long title to bug chairs and faculty who don't comply.

    As is often the case, when you find dysfunction in large organizations that compete for customers, it's probably because they're complying with a stack of stupid federal regulations. Google HEOA Reauthorization for a sample.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    Best behavior, guys.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Yes...Postrel is watching us...glamourously.

  • Paul.||

    !$%^&@* you!

  • Square||

    It's no one group strangling speech on college campuses. The anti-free speech movement on college campuses really began with the Free Speech movement at Berkeley (remember Reagan arguing AGAINST the right of free speech on college campuses?)

    In the late 60s Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley was the site of some medium serious conflicts between police and political agitators (many of them not students). UC Santa Cruz was designed specifically without such a central public gathering place in order to minimize the abilities of protestors to assemble and cause disturbances.

    The PC-crowd in the late 80s, early 90s got on board by banning certain "hate words" and essentially banning certain views as being "racist" and as chasing minorities away from college, and were thus unacceptable.

    Your average college student of the last several decades also has very little interest in ideas as such. They have a right to a piece of paper that will get them a good job, and they (and their parents) don't want their worldview challenged while they're there.

    Many professors will also leverage various ideological condemnations in order to avoid having to produce coherent arguments, which take effort.

    Administrators simply don't like complications and headaches, which is what Free Speech on campus has become. Therefore, they are against it. If Free Speech created less work for them, they would be for it.

  • Free Society||

    This is a thoroughly left-wing phenomenon. Take one single principle or value the left supposedly upholds and see how they utterly destroy it. They support Free Speech as long as it's speech they agree with. They love freedom as long as it involves the freedom to steal from others. They love equality as long as some groups are more equal than others. Every ideal the left claims to value, is entirely turned on it's head since we're talking about a legion of people who never learned to think.

  • Square||

    I don't think it's left-wing. It's just authoritarian.

    I remember 20-25 years ago when students were rallying against allowing the KKK onto a campus, it was Noam Chomsky who stood up for the KKK and chastised the students for their opposition to free speech.

    The Free Speech movement at UCB was certainly not a right-wing thing, and the opposition to the youth movement of the time was not coming exclusively from the left by any stretch of the imagination.

    The prohibitions on mentioning drugs in movies or songs, or speaking of them in any but the most hysterically negative terms within the vicinity of any school was not a left wing thing.

    Neither of our patented "wings" have any monopoly on either stupidity or tyranny.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    The "free speech" zone at Sproul is now a circle that is about 10 feet in diameter. And you need a permit to use it.

  • Square||

    I have mixed feelings about that. When I was there in the early 90s, protesting things was just part of what you did there. It didn't really matter what - every Friday there was just always somebody protesting something, and it was usually something along the lines of the unbearable tyranny of not having a "Hmong Studies" department.

    At some point, your janitors get sick of cleaning up after these people . . .

    I kid though - if you can't stand up on a pillar and scream out dumbass things at Sproul Plaza, where can you?

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    You can scream whatever you want, as long as it's favored. The Palestinian protesters were allowed to do whatever they wanted when I was there (late 90's-00), including blatantly breaking the law. However, when Anne Coulter showed up to give a scheduled speech, it was deemed "disruptive".

    My favorite experience was the all night hunger strikes for more funding for the "Ethnic Studies" departments. I had a pizza delivered to that one...

  • Square||

    Next you're going to tell me they don't let whackos hang out on Telegraph anymore.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    Huge sign on the corner of Telegraph and Durant:
    "DRUG FREE ZONE"

  • Paul.||

    My favorite experience was the all night hunger strikes for more funding for the "Ethnic Studies" departments. I had a pizza delivered to that one...

    With nothing on it?

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    I ate it, so it obviously had meat on it.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • Paul.||

    I have mixed feelings about that. When I was there in the early 90s, protesting things was just part of what you did there. It didn't really matter what

    End Construction

  • OldMexican||

    1) Does the campus host debates on controversial issues? If so, what are some recent topics?
    2) Do you have a “free speech zone”?
    3) What is the administrator-to-professor ratio? How much has that grown in the last 10 years?
    4) Are students accused of offenses presumed innocent until proved guilty? What is the standard of proof? How do you adjudicate honor or student code violations?


    How about: Why don't you post your prices for everyone to see like normal people do, you meatheads?

    I'm going to convince my two sons to not go to college unless a) they really want to get the diploma and b) if they pay for it themselves.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Why don't you post your prices for everyone to see like normal people do, you meatheads?

    What do you mean by that? Personally, I've never encountered a university that wasn't forthcoming about their tuition and fees.

  • OldMexican||

    2) Do you have a "free speech zone"?


    Yes, it's called a restroom. You can post all sorts of opinions about a particular girl's passion for sexual activities, plus her phone number.

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