Wiser Kids, Wiser Universities

What you can do to help protect free speech on campus.


This week, we are exploring legal issues around Greg's new book with Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind. Yesterday we outlined the perhaps surprising relationship between speech codes and anti-harassment policies.

In our final post, we wanted to cover some possible solutions to the problems Jonathan and Greg discuss in their book The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, and then expand to what readers can do to help protect free speech and academic freedom on campus.

Because the book is very concerned about parenting, resilience, and the mental well-being of students, our solutions section is both for parents of younger children and parents of the college-bound. Solutions include everything from promoting free range parenting and free play to advocating for a cultural expectation of a "gap year" between graduation from high school and college.

Focusing more on freedom of speech and academic freedom, here's a short list of things that readers, whether current students, faculty, or alumni, can do to help:

1) Push for your university to endorse the Chicago Statement. The goal of the statement drafted by the University of Chicago Committee on Freedom of Expression in 2015 is to "recommit the university to the principles of free, robust, and uninhibited debate." So far, 45 institutions have adopted the statement. There's a version in The Coddling of the American Mind, and also a version on FIRE's site, that has been adapted and excerpted from the original institution-specific statement. Consider it a first draft for your faculty body, administration, or governing board looking to adopt its own version.

2) Get your campus a "green light" speech code rating from FIRE. A "green light" institution is one where the campus policies do not seriously imperil speech. Since 2006, the number of institutions with "green light" policies has risen from seven to 42. For help on getting your institution to join that list, contact FIRE.

3) Explain these concepts early and often. Ask administrators if your campus, in orientation and beyond, covers freedom of speech, academic freedom, and the deep philosophy behind the search for and formulation of knowledge. We can't blame students for not defending free speech and academic freedom if nobody's ever explained what they are and why they are important.

4) Don't contribute to the outrage cycle. This is one you can do from the comfort of your own home. When you see outrage mobs forming on either the right or the left, be a voice against the mob and oppose the firing of administrators, professors, or students for expressing their opinion even when their words personally offend you.

5) Stand up for yourself. If you are a professor or a student who faces retaliation for expressing your opinion, don't be afraid to speak out. For every case FIRE takes public, there are many more where the person involved (especially faculty members) thinks that keeping quiet is safer than fighting back. In our experience, however, professors and students who get public attention are much safer from retribution than those who try to fight quietly. Like any other wrongdoers, would-be censors tend to be on their best behavior once they're being watched. FIRE can help.

Jonathan and Greg think of the solutions section as just the start of the discussion. We are intensely interested in programs that help protect freedom of speech, but also that encourage dialogue across lines of political difference. If you have ideas for solutions that can help parents, students, or society at large, please let Adam Goldstein know and he'll share it with Greg and Jon. After all, part of the point of freedom of speech is that you never know where the next great idea is going to come from, so you'd better hear everyone out.

As we conclude our week posting on the Conspiracy, we want to once again thank Eugene for hosting us this week and giving us the opportunity to flesh out some of the legal aspects of our argument that were inappropriate for a book primarily about psychology and ancient wisdom. Greg would also like to thank all the people who made the book project possible, and in order to reach a bigger audience, Jon and Greg have published the entire content of the acknowledgments on our website thecoddling.com.

Thanks in particular to Greg's chief researcher Pamela Paresky, the entire staff of FIRE, and to the board. Thanks also to all the people who volunteered to help us refine arguments (and discover new ones and new perspectives) on the many polarizing issues we discuss in the book. We are proud to announce that the book debuted at number 8 on The New York Times' hardcover nonfiction best sellers list. We hope you will consider reading it and tell us what you think!

NEXT: Speech Codes and "Twisting Title IX"

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  1. But what if free speech hurts my baby feelings? WHERE is my safe space and binky?

    1. This isn’t quite the outrage cycle, but I’m not sure if it is in the spirit of the original post, either.

    2. WHERE is my safe space and binky?

      At hundreds of conservative-controlled schools, from Biola to Ave Maria, Hillsdale to Wheaton, Regent to Liberty, Franciscan to Oral Roberts, Clarks Summit to Cedarbrook . . . .

      You can generally find them in the fourth-tier rankings, or among the institutions that do not qualify for rankings.

      1. You’re totally *owning* the Biola and Oral Roberts professors who run this blog! /sarc

        1. The Conspirators do not criticize Biola and Oral Roberts, or the professors at those institutions. They focus their criticism on stronger schools, and liberal-libertarian professors, while ignoring censorship that (ostensibly) benefits conservatives.

          1. Below you said they “flattered” these institutions., not that they ignored them.

  2. Might I suggest *compulsory* participation in debates, as our great universities used to do in the Middle Ages?

    1. The conflict between liberty and government enforcing civic virtue was resolved long ago, and not in that direction.

      1. So…abolish that medieval invention, the university?

        1. Eh, white people came up with it so I’ve always been skeptical…

          Seriously though, I don’t see anything wrong with it as a policy personally, I don’t think that suggestion comports with America’s foundational social-governmental priorities.

          I could see it elsewhere, though. Like compulsory voting.

          1. “Like compulsory voting.”

            If people don’t want to vote, its none of the government’s business.

            Free people don’t dance because some hack politicians want them to do so.

            1. I think the cost-benefit between the imposition versus encouraging a more popularly accountable government is a closer question. Because with a larger vote, if the people aren’t dancing, then the hack’s out of a job.

              Australia has compulsory voting and it’s politics seem about in line with Europe.

              I think I come down on the side of the voluntary status quo, due to the lack of proof of actual benefit. But I’m open minded.

              1. “Australia has compulsory voting and it’s politics seem about in line with Europe.”

                Ah, the real reason you might want compulsory voting.

                I don’t care if utopia on earth would be the result, my time is not government’s to command.

                Jury duty should be voluntary too imho.

                1. I would think jury duty – if by jury duty you mean serving on a jury which is authorized to consider both the law and the facts of a case without being dictated to by anyone – should be compulsory, because of the vital importance of having an institution such as the jury decide guilt or innocence. Of course this is a hypothetical question because such juries as I’ve described don’t exist in this country.

                  If you can take away the powers of jurors, it’s hard to continue to insist on their duties.

                2. First, read what I said – I don’t want compulsory voting, I’m just not as knee-jerk about it as you.
                  Second, thanks for the vote of bad faith, but I’m not motivated by some Australian politics envy. From what I hear, their politics are actually a lot more bad and reactionary than ours in a lot of ways.

                  Your principled myopia is cute, but comes pre-compromised if you pay any taxes, no? Time is money after all.

                  1. If someone doesn’t bother to vote they may have good reason. They may not care enough about the issues to educate themselves. Parties which rely on forced voting are trying to mobilize the ignorance of the community on their behalf.

                    Now, this may be rational ignorance on the part of these voters, who may conclude that their time is better spent working on those parts of their lives under their immediate control than studying public affairs in which they have only a nominal voice.

                  2. “comes pre-compromised if you pay any taxes, no?”

                    Men with guns will throw me in jail and I will lose my home and law license if I disobey the requirements to pay taxes. [Plus, most of my taxes are removed by my employer before I ever see them.]

                    Adding voting to the things that can get me thrown into prison seems excessive.

                    Government might need some level of taxes but it does not need 100% voting.

                    “knee-jerk “, also known as a principle.

                3. True. Still, actually casting a ballot takes very little time. I always figured the main reason not to have compulsory voting was that people who are interested in the election are likely to make better choices than people who are not. But now I’m not sure. The two major parties are moving further and further apart, leaving a big gap in the middle. Maybe people who would just as soon not vote are likely to pick more middle-of-the-road candidates, if they are on the ballot. Then again, unless voting in primaries was also compulsory, they probably wouldn’t be on the ballot. But if everyone had to vote, might that lead to the creation of a third party that would run candidates who reject the extremes of the right and the left, in order to appeal to people who will only be voting because they have to? If so, perhaps it would be worth doing. I don’t think Australia is experiencing the kind of political polarization we in the United States are.

                  1. I think this depends a lot on what the “centrists” are centrist about.

                    Alas, sometimes centrism means taking the worst ideas of *both* parties and triumphantly enacting them into law.

          2. In case I was unclear, I mean the *universities* could require their students to take part in debates.

            1. I think I’m the one being unclear!
              This series of posts has been about the government, in as much as public universities are governmental in nature. That’s why I’m so breezily conflating the two.

              1. It would be a good idea if the government did not operate schools directly, but whoever operates schools should look at the educational advantages of including participation in public disputations as one of the requirements of graduation.

                There are enough universities that even if my idea miraculously gets popular, there are some many colleges and universities that there will be some holdout institutions which don’t have a debate requirement.

                1. “so many” not “some many”

                2. It would be a good idea if the government did not operate schools directly,

                  That is a terrible idea, advanced mostly by ineffectual malcontents who dislike modern America.

                  1. K-Tel presents, Rev. Kirkland’s Greatest Hits, as fresh as the first time he performed them waay back in the mists of time.

                    Thrill to such classics as “goober colleges,” “can’t keep up (just like my penis),” and “why do you hate America (it must be because your penis is bigger than mine).”

                    And for no extra charge you get “loyalty oaths and outdated rules (like expecting my dick to be more than three inches long).”

  3. FIRE does some good work. Its partisan practice of issuing undeserved free passes to censorship-shackled conservative-controlled campuses to flatter right-wing donors (while continually hectoring stronger, private, liberal-libertarian schools) tarnishes that work severely, however.

    1. They target private institutions which misrepresent their commitment to free speech, as in this example:

      Liberty University’s Values and Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Pro-Free Speech Statements Don’t Add Up

      If an institution warns students in advance that they won’t enjoy traditional academic freedom, then FIRE has a special rating: “…when a private university clearly and consistently states that it holds a certain set of values above a commitment to freedom of speech, FIRE warns prospective students and faculty members of this fact.”

      Here is FIRE’s list of institutions which clearly and consistently hold values which supersede free speech:

      Baylor University

      Brigham Young University

      California Institute of Integral Studies

      Gonzaga University

      Pepperdine University

      Saint Louis University

      United States Military Academy

      United States Naval Academy

      Vassar College

      Yeshiva University

      1. Some private institution indicate ‘we restrict expression because we value superstition.’ Those institutions tend to be severe, diffuse censors. They also tend to be mediocre or worse.

        Other private institutions “we restrict expression because we value civility, or diversity, or the like.” Those institutions tend to be less strident censors. They include our strongest educational institutions.

        Some people flatter the former and excoriate the latter.

        1. “Some people flatter the former”

          Dare I ask which specific people? Preferably people connected with this blog?

          1. FIRE and the Volokh Conspiracy, for starters.

            1. Links to the flattery, please?

              1. They ostentatiously disregard severe censorship by conservatives and whine incessantly and pettily about censorship involving liberal-libertarian institutions and persons.

                The FIRE and Conspiracy archives are readily available.

                1. They’re readily available, and you found no examples of flattery, making the somewhat different claim that they ignored these institutions.

                  1. I do not understand your intended point.

                    That they don’t flatter the right-wing schools (and right-wing donors) by ignoring the right-wing cenroship, or that they do not ignore the censorship at right-wing schools by refraining from rating conservative-controlled campuses while rating other campuses?

        2. FIRE doesn’t ignore those institutions, it gives them a special category. If schools want to announce in advance that they don’t respect free speech and will prioritize their definition of “civility” over it, then they can join that special category and students can make an intelligent choice to go there. FIRE focuses on ones that claim they do something but then don’t, or do the opposite.

          1. Do you contend (1) that FIRE doesn’t ignore express declarations that schools value civility and diversity (much as other schools declare that they value religious dogma), or (2) that schools rated by FIRE have not indicated that they value civility and diversity?

            Either way, evidence contravenes your argument.

            1. FIRE doesn’t ignore express declarations that schools value civility and diversity you fucking moron.

              1. You are precisely the type of reader the Volokh Conspiracy cultivates, jph12. Backward, bigoted, and proud of it. Also, the only hope of the right-wing electoral coalition these movement conservatives are desperately trying to prop up a bit longer.

                1. You are nothing but a fucking moron incapable of rational thought. You actively avoid educating yourself about issues, preferring to wallow in your own ignorance. Eddy has already presented evidence, in this very thread, that you are wrong. But you are too fucking stupid to understand that.

      2. FIRE tends to ignore (does not rate) the likes of Grove City, Wheaton, and Hillsdale while focusing on the Amhersts, Swarthmores, and Reeds.

        1. And you have yet to even once, on any thread ever, provide a rational reason why FIRE should not concentrate it’s efforts on those institutions that are bound by constitutional protections of free speed and the free exercise of religion because they are government run.

          1. Censorship at Grove City or Wheaton (whether in the form of viewpoint-discriminatory hiring, suppression of dissent, rejection of academic freedom, enforcement of speech and conduct codes, or the similar) is no better than censorship at Amherst or Williams.

            To the contrary, the severity of the censorship at the former dismantles any argument that those who disfavor censorship should direct greater criticism at the latter.

            I have scant respect for the ‘but some schools are public and others are not’ dodge in this context, not only because superstition-based censorship is no better than other censorship but also because the pretext is betrayed by the disparate treatment of private schools not controlled by conservatives.

            1. There is no disparate treatment of private schools not controlled by conservatives. It’s been explained to you many times, including right here in this thread. You are just too stupid to understand.

              1. And you are just stupid enough to constitute movement conservatism’s target audience.

                1. I’m glad you admit you are too stupid to understand this issue. It’s nice to see that even you recognize you aren’t worth responding to.

  4. ===Like any other wrongdoers, would-be censors tend to be on their best behavior once they’re being watched.===

    Censors have a solution to this — censor discussion of the censorship. They just haven’t gotten there yet.

  5. ===Like any other wrongdoers, would-be censors tend to be on their best behavior once they’re being watched.===

    Censors have a solution to this — censor discussion of the censorship. They just haven’t gotten there yet.

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