Latest News and Commentary: National

December 13, 2021
By Greg Lukianoff
Reason Magazine, January 2022

Excerpt: The 1994 movie PCU, about a rebellious fraternity resisting its politically correct university, was a milestone. Not because the movie was especially good—it wasn't. It was a milestone because it showed that political correctness had officially become a joke. The derisive term "P.C." had referred to a genuine and powerful force on campus for the previous decade. But by the mid-1990s, it had become the butt of jokes from across the political spectrum. The production of a mainstream movie mocking political correctness showed that its cultural moment had passed.

Political correctness didn't decline and fall. It went underground and then rose again. If anything, it's stronger than ever today. We've fully entered the Second Great Age of Political Correctness. If we are to find a way out, we must understand how we got here and admit the true depths of the problem.

December 13, 2021
By Jeffrey Sachs
PEN America

Excerpt: It’s a frightening time to be an educator. As if COVID-19 wasn’t enough, our November report, Educational Gag Orders: Legislative Restrictions on the Freedom to Read, Learn, and Teach, documented 54 state-level bills around the country that would stifle teaching and learning about race, sex, gender, and American history in schools, universities, and state agencies. Educators who don’t comply could lose already scarce funding—or their jobs.

And it’s getting worse. In the month since the report’s release, state lawmakers introduced 12 new bills, bringing the total to a staggering 66 educational gag orders for the year in 26 states, 12 of which have passed into law.

December 13, 2021
By Frank LoMonte
Inside Higher Ed

Excerpt: Social media is an empowering leveler for millions of young users. It gives teenagers a vast outlet to connect with faraway peers and exchange ideas on the cultural and political topics of the day. Some have made small fortunes monetizing their creativity on YouTube and Instagram. But for some teens, social media will also prove to be the difference maker in losing access to a college education because an admissions officer deemed their speech to be offensive or indicative of bad character.

When an already-enrolled student at a state college is suspended or expelled for online speech—a not-infrequent occurrence in today’s culture—constitutional safeguards kick in. Students are entitled to a due process hearing and opportunity to appeal, and if the college is found to have discriminated based on a legally protected viewpoint, the student can be compensated for the loss. But what if the punishment falls on a not-yet-accepted student?

December 13, 2021
By Naomi Schaefer Riley
Bloomberg Opinion

Excerpt: “In the place of debate and intellectual exchange there is only the continual repetition of political maxims grown stale with the years, of truisms and tautologies untested by disagreement.” This is the way a group of Harvard students describes the current atmosphere at the university in the first issue of the recently revived publication called the Salient. I was excited to receive my copy the other day, not least because almost a quarter century ago, I was its editor.

The conservative paper on campus has undergone many changes over the years since its founding in the 1980s. A biweekly when I was there, the Salient has run the ideas of cultural conservatives, libertarians, foreign-policy hawks, isolationists and independents.  The new issue, however, contains eight articles, all written under pseudonyms — “Publius,” “Cato” and a few others. 

December 13, 2021
By Baltimore Sun Editorial Board
Baltimore Sun

Excerpt:  Last Wednesday, members of the Carroll County Board of Education were on the verge of approving new restrictions on political speech among county educators when the proposal was tabled, apparently because a last-minute addition — the suggestion of a tracking system to help report teachers who stray from political “neutrality” — caused a bit of a stir. Might it be a violation of their free speech rights guaranteed by the 1st Amendment? The board’s lawyer thought that could be the case. And that is probably the chief, if not sole, reason, a majority of the school board did not approve the policy, which is officially entitled “Political Neutrality of Carroll County Public Schools Employees” but might just as easily have been called “What The Hysteria Over Critical Race Theory Has Wrought.”

In short, the school board has scurried down the rabbit hole of political “neutrality” after receiving multiple complaints from county residents that critical race theory was being taught in schools when, of course, it was not — not by any reasonable definition anyway.

December 11, 2021
By Helen Norton
The Current

Excerpt: University of Florida officials in November blocked three professors from offering expert testimony in a lawsuit that challenged recently enacted state voting restrictions. But the university soon reversed course amid a public outcry.

The criticism leveled at the university included charges that the scholars’ academic freedom had been violated, along with their First Amendment rights to free speech. The professors themselves filed a lawsuit against the university after the reversal, saying that the university had violated “foundational principles of academic freedom and free speech.”

From my perspective as a constitutional law scholar and lawyer, untangling how these two claims are both related and distinct can help us understand how these kinds of disputes ultimately pit robust protections for free inquiry and debate against public institutions’ desire to manage their operations as they choose. It turns out that courts reach very mixed results when deciding these disputes.

December 11, 2021
By Yascha Mounk
Persuasion

Excerpt: Jeannie Suk Gersen is the John H. Watson, Jr. Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and a contributing writer at The New Yorker. She writes widely about the law and its impact on society.

In this week’s conversation, Jeannie Suk Gersen and Yascha Mounk discuss the value of robust debate in law school classrooms, the perils of eroding due process in the name of progress, and the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.

December 10, 2021
By Michael Powell
New York Times

Excerpt: In late September, Carrie Damon, a middle school librarian, celebrated “Banned Books Week,” an annual free-speech event, with her working-class Latino students by talking of literature’s beauty and subversive power. A few weeks later, State Representative Matt Krause, a Republican, emailed a list of 850 books to superintendents, a mix of half-century-old novels — “The Confessions of Nat Turner” by William Styron — and works by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Margaret Atwood, as well as edgy young adult books touching on sexual identity. Are these works, he asked, on your library shelves?

Mr. Krause’s motive was unclear, but the next night, at a school board meeting in San Antonio, parents accused a librarian of poisoning young minds. Mr. Krause, who compiled the list of 850 books that might “make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish” because of race or sex, did not respond to interview requests. Nor did his aides explain why he drew up the list.

 

December 10, 2021
By Graham Piro
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: Newly uncovered audio sheds more light on the Stanford University student government’s decision to deny funding for an event that seeks to bring former Vice President Mike Pence to campus next February. FIRE has reviewed the recording of Stanford’s Undergraduate Senate meeting, which occurred on Tuesday night. The senate debated the denial of funding for the event and considered a vote that would have imposed certain restrictions and requirements on it. Concerns over student safety dominated the discussion, which oscillated between concerns about the spread of COVID-19, the physical security of the event given the high-profile nature of the speaker, and the anticipated campus reaction to Pence’s speech.

The Stanford College Republicans told FIRE that Pence accepted their invitation to speak, and that the group is still planning to file a Constitutional Council complaint — an appeal to the student Constitutional Council that oversees the senate’s constitutional compliance.

December 8, 2021
By Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
FIRE

FIRE’s Spotlight on Speech Codes 2022 report shows broadly positive trends. The number of “red light” schools that maintain at least one restrictive speech policy has fallen for the 14th year in a row, now down to 18.5%. Red light schools compose 12% of surveyed public schools (45 total) and 41.1% of surveyed private institutions (44 in total). Public universities have reached a critical inflection point, with green light schools outnumbering red light schools (54 versus 45). The majority of surveyed institutions remain in the “yellow light” category, maintaining at least one policy that is narrowly restrictive of constitutionally-protected speech or is vague enough that it could be enforced against protected expression.

FIRE has highlighted some areas of concern despite signs of wide-ranging progress. Censorship drives against student and faculty speech are a major problem both within and outside of campuses. Information Technology policies are another problem area, as they can be overbroad to the point of restricting student speech. Thirty-four schools maintain substantially restrictive red light IT policies, and 216 institutions have yellow light IT policies. These flawed regulations carry a high risk of abuse as remote meetings and other digital venues have become important to student learning.