George La Noue writes for the Martin Center about encouraging diverse viewpoints on college campuses.
In the last few years, higher education has suffered an embarrassing series of well-publicized incidents of overt censorship by members of the academic community. The instances are geographically widespread and occur in a variety of institutions.
At many campuses there have been attempts or successes in disinviting significant speakers from campus. …
… But actually, those acts of censorship, though deeply troublesome, are not typical of the more than 3,000 American college campuses. What is far more common is the avoidance of campus-sponsored events where controversial public policies are debated. Those speech vacuums, in the long run, are more dangerous to higher education’s mission of citizen preparation than episodic censorship, despite the chilling effect it creates.
A team of graduate students and I have just completed research, called “The Decline of Freedom of Speech and Policy Debates on Campus,” on the topics and participants in on-campus debates or forums with divergent viewpoints in 24 policy areas. Using a stratified sample of U.S. News and World Report’s “top” institutions in seven categories, we have examined the 2014 and 2015 campus calendars of 90 campuses.
Our findings were discouraging. Except for wealthy institutions possessing high-status research centers or law schools, sponsoring debates or forums about public policy with different perspectives is not a priority in higher education. Many political issues debated everywhere else in American society are not debated at all, or only rarely, in campus public events. Almost all undergraduates can vote, but few are exposed to diverse viewpoints about the major policies which should inform their franchise.