Commentary: Higher Ed's Free Speech Death Spiral

Nathan Harden

Excerpt: The mission of every college and university is to provide a forum for the free exchange of thought, vigorous debate and the broadest possible range of ideas. At least, that is what it ought to be. But that mission is at odds with the spirit of our present age, defined by silos of chatroom groupthink, social media shaming, hyper-partisan news media, self-conscious corporate virtue signaling and puritanical language policing.

In this environment, sometimes it feels like the safest thing to do is just to stay silent. And that seems to be the approach more students are taking these days. A massive new survey of 37,000 college students reveals that more than 80 percent of them self-censor in the classroom, on campus and online. The survey forms the basis of the 2021 College Free Speech Rankings, produced by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), RealClearEducation (my organization) and the research firm College Pulse.