Over the last two years, various incidents have taken place at American universities that have brought to the forefront a number of serious questions about the scope and limitation of freedom of speech on the nation’s campuses. From Berkeley to the University of Missouri, students, faculty and outside speakers have tangled, at times violently, over who should be permitted a public venue and what they should be allowed to say.
While this may seem little more than fodder for amusing op-eds to the great mass of Americans, it has far-reaching consequences. Few things have been more important to the creation of modern society than freedom of academic inquiry. In fact, it is often precisely the suppression of ideas that is pointed to as the chief reason that the Dark Ages persisted for so long. Figures like Galileo and even Leonardo Da Vinci once faced the possibility of burning at the stake for countervening the teachings of the Church. Some fear that our modern society has gotten to the point where political correctness is taking on some of the worst characteristics of the Catholic Church of old.
But on a more practical level, the administrators grappling with these issues face immediate and stark consequences. The University of Missouri is an example of campus unrest causing real damage. In 2016, Melissa Click, a professor there, was fired over controversial speech. The following semester, applications dropped by nearly 30 percent.
In Berkeley, Nicholas Dirks, the chancellor, had attempted to give controversial speaker Ann Coulter a venue in which to address the campus. His plan called for up to 100 extra police officers, a number that would have cost the university tens of thousands of dollars for a speech lasting just a few hours. Ms. Coulter ultimately rejected the offer and the university is currently being sued by a student group.