Jeff Sessions and the “struggle” for free speech on college campuses

December 14, 2017 henry_admin 0 Comments
Originally published by IC Chronicle

In a press release from Sept. 26, the U.S. Department of Justice sided with students in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski who alleged the speech codes of Georgia Gwinnett College restrict their free expression unconstitutionally. Sessions said there would be more statements of interest like this in the weeks to come as the DOJ takes a closer look at institutions of higher learning to see if their speech codes abide by the First Amendment.

“The American university was once the center of academic freedom, a place of robust debate, a forum for the competition of ideas,” Sessions said in an address to the Georgetown Law Center on Sept. 26. “But it has transformed into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogeneous thought—a shelter for fragile egos.”

The accusation that colleges and universities are ultra left-wing has been a calling card for conservatives since William F. Buckley wrote God and Man at Yale in 1951. For the accused professors and students, this is a laughable charge because nobody thinks of their politics as partisan but as a code of ethics transcending partisanship, especially if they have the ethos of academic rigor.

In echo chambers, the community’s collective perception of political orthodoxy becomes restricted to a narrow corner of the spectrum and certain ideas become heretical. College is a place where young people should be free to develop their viewpoints without beguilement or bullying from professors or students.

Derek Adams, professor in the Ithaca College department of English, admitted that the supremacy of left-wing views in a class can alienate conservative students. In fact, Adams said alienating conservative students goes against the original intentions of liberal critical analysis to intellectually liberate students.

“A ‘good liberal’ would not be alienating and marginalizing people while they are crying out against marginality and alienation,” Adams said. “That happens on the part of professors when they’re teaching classes and they don’t make room for any other kind of thought.”

However, the best way for the government to ensure freedom of speech on college campuses is very simple: staying out of it. Involvement by the DOJ in these matters is a concrete step toward a right-wing autocracy, confirming the worst fear of progressives and classic liberals: the Trump administration is interested in discriminating among different forms of free speech.

Over 30 Georgetown University law professors signed an open letter, tweeted by a signatory the same night as Sessions’ address, saying he had no authority on free speech. After all, the DOJ issued a lawsuit against protester Desiree Fairooz for laughing during Sessions’ confirmation hearing and then for resisting arrest. Sessions has also issued a warrant demanding that DreamHost, the web hosting service used by IC Chronicle, divulge identifying information of subscribers organizing protest against Trump’s inauguration. “This kind of government chilling of free speech is precisely what the first amendment to the United States Constitution is meant to prevent,” the signatories wrote in the letter.

A nationalist, authoritarian government like the Trump administration is not a neutral party in maintaining an uncoerced learning environment; it is the precisely the subject of the cultural criticism found in politics and social science departments across the country. The hegemony of “political correctness” alleged by Sessions is the cultural criticism that serves as a democratic check on an oppressive government.

If conservative activists are to fight against leftist orthodoxy on college campuses, their fight must be restricated to the private sector—a coalition of free thinkers engaging in debate with their left of center counterparts.

Originally published by IC Chronicle

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