Free speech experts say campus censorship is driven by students, not administrators

by Joel Abbott · Feb 12th, 2021 12:12 pm

Last Updated Feb 14th, 2021 at 11:44 pm

The cancel culture and censorship on college campuses is being pushed largely by students, not faculty, according to several leading scholars and experts who spoke at a Baylor University event on Wednesday.

The Baptist college hosted the event, titled "Free Speech on Campus: Is it in Danger?" to discuss the recent trend of censorship in academia across the nation.

The panel of speakers included former attorney and writer David French, the Brookings Institution's Jonathan Rauch, former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Kristina Arriaga, and American Enterprise Institute fellow Thomas Chatterton Williams.

During the event, French outlined how the "speech codes" of universities began to change in the 1990s and 2000s, but that this top-down censorship shifted to student-led calls for firings, bans, and sanctions after 2010.

"A lot of university censorship was top-down. It was a dean stepping in; it was an administrator stepping in," said French. "Around 2014, 2015 you began to see students much more stepping up to demand censorship."

French warned about the current state of free speech on campus, especially in how social media is misused to target individuals.

"People are more apt to call for your firing, they're more apt to call for sanctioning," he said. "They're more apt to use the power of social media to swamp you in allegations of racism, sexism, transphobia, etc."

Rauch echoed this sentiment, saying censorship "has morphed from legal culture and speech codes to civic culture and peer pressure of students on each other."

The speakers gave several reports on the climate of free speech on campus, including a 2019 study by the Knight Foundation that said 68% of Generation Z students believed they could not share their opinions on campus. They also cited a 2020 study of that looked at 478 colleges and discovered 88% limit free speech through their policies.


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