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High Stakes at Play In Campus Free Speech Fiascos

The country’s universities have been embroiled in controversy like at no time since the 1960s. The central theme to the diversity of disruptions that have plagued college campuses from East to West is the role that freedom of speech should play in the academy. It seems, more than anything, to be a battle between the politically correct and the unorthodox.

Some of these incidents have seemed trivial, even funny. Hate hoaxes, football players missing their own games at Division III schools that no one cares about, all of these things provide amusing fodder for bloggers and tabloid news sites. But for the administrators at the colleges where the brouhahas have unfolded, the stakes could not be higher.

In the case of the University of Missouri, the dean eventually lost his job. It all started when a teacher made comments that some deemed offensive, but which many regarded as constitutionally protected speech. Things escalated, with massive student protests, unrest on campus and the football season nearly being cancelled. The fired teacher has filed a lawsuit, seeking millions in damages against the university. Some observers think she has an iron-clad case.

However, the real devastation came the following semester. By early 2016, the University of Missouri’s applications had declined by a full 30 percent. Experts say that if the school can’t recover to its historically normal application numbers, it could face bankruptcy within just a few years.

Similar incidents have occurred at the University of California, Berkeley. There, a long series of riots have broken out on campus as a result of speakers showing up to give talks, some of whom were denied a platform to speak. That university is also facing a string of lawsuits and has been directly threatened by President Trump with losing all of its federal funding if it doesn’t get its act together.

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