Free Speech in College?

freedom iconI have heard from students at different universities that their free speech and expression is limited by faculty who can or will give them poor grades for views that are not analogous to faculty points of view.  Though I support free speech, I usually tell students to avoid talking about political, religious or other controversial issues with faculty, as I know from firsthand experience that those who are against you will “d” grade you whenever they can.   I’ve been told by many that they have to agree with faculty in their writing and that they cannot argue against faculty philosophical ideas in order to maintain their GPA.   This infuriates many.  Have you had this experience?  In academia, faculty should be able to discuss about viewpoints or ideas that are not popular or are politically incorrect.  Faculty just shouldn’t be docking students for their viewpoint, offensive or contrary as they may be.  I’m not sure what one can do about being docked either, unless they can present their case effectively to their college Dean or chair.

 Another issue of freedom of speech is the types of subjects and ideas studied in the classroom.  Faculty should be able to present works from controversial people that are not popular, but stimulate thought and feeling alike.   Being that we are in academia, we should also be able to entertain in our studies content that is problematic, offensive, racists, sexists or worse.  But, it appears that on many campuses that some students actually support abuses of the first amendment.  If one does not agree with the guy preaching , or the woman who is a vegan, or the person who shares alternative political views,  that does not mean we have the right to stop them from free expression.  

Faculty members too have a similar issue when their expression in the classroom that can be jeopardized by administrative policies.  Faculty should be able to state what their opinions are without being afraid of being fired.    Another place where first amendment rights are in jeopardy is with the faculty being able to say what they want without having their administration punitively? For more on academic freedom of faculty read: http://chronicle.com/article/AAUP-Announces-Effort-to-Sh/49100/

 The reason these issues are important is that once you lose your right to free speech, you start living in a totalitarian state.  There are extremes such as harassment and vulgarity that may be agreed upon, but denying someone the ability to express themselves in academia is just wrong.  We should have the most open discussion of topics.  All points of view should have their place.  Everyone should be free to think as they wish and to express their thoughts.  Somewhere there is a line which is crossed into the realm of hatred, violence, and other negative expressions that are harmful to others – that is called a hate crime.  We have laws for battery as well.  Pornography is keep from children.  Here in the world of knowledge and ideals, we should be able to discuss those issues and to express our opinions and to change our minds as we are adults.  We shouldn’t be run out on a rail because we disagree with you.

Further reading:

Fire is an organization that zealously support free.  Their third annual report on campus speech codes… “The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses” found that American colleges and universities continue to systematically violate students’ and faculty members’ right to freedom of expression. About 75 percent of colleges surveyed continue to support policies that restrict speech protected by the First Amendment.  They post the following link that presents a letter to a college about free speech problems:


In the Higher Ed web site, the following link was found stating the nearly 70% of campuses are in violation of the federal bill of rights:



2 Responses to “Free Speech in College?”

  1. 1 mark1point0
    01/02/2010 at 10:53 pm

    You bring up an interesting issue, that of free speech. While I can go on with particulars of ‘teachers’ sticking it to me, and dreaded grades is the context; I will instead lay out my experience at CSULA this way; I have encountered a huge range of competence, commitment, and caring approaches from teachers that are negotiating, specifically, a point of view (however unrefined) development about the students. That wide range of ccca in its self has surprised me. I know it reads naive and verbose to say it; I have just been shocked that some of these
    so-called teachers walk into the classroom interested in only one thing: for that student to spit back in perspective (through assignments written), not that student’s view, but of the ‘teachers.’ Take a stand, and think: to my face, on more than one occasion, such thinking posture is punished with a bad grade. Further, they dare you to chase up the petition road in contesting the grade, as it full well makes a monkey out of the student while propping up that crap teacher.

    Without getting into who’s who, and the time frame (just before violence ripped through campuses, the only hint); note that a particular ‘professor’ was selling video games publishers as instigating youth to kill, via Grossman’s wonderful tale, On Killing. Now, let us be clear and frank, or sue if need be. Maybe video games do, or maybe they don’t — not the point. According to multiple reviews of my research paper efforts, three from the university; my critique of the Grossman perspective was “coherent”– and please believe that for or against, again my naive ‘wide-eyed’ approach did NOT help — I simply explained that Grossman’s view did not rise to what I thought amounts a good argument. The grade I got: “D.” (still on my record mind you). Did I request conference? You bet I did. Did this wonder of pedagogy finally agree to see me…..then refuse to explain the grade (after asking him TWICE)? yes, he did. That teacher was selling something, and pointing out the pitch in suspicion brought wrath, cut and dry. Final question: think that was an isolated case of ‘bad teaching’? Afraid not. On that upside, and there is one from this GPA slaughter; some of those totalitarian ‘teachers’ are gone, and more importantly I have since rather enjoyed during my senior year, I kid you not — competence, commitment, and caring approaches, in mirror OPPOSITE to that, pegging approach. True we ‘should be able to discuss and express’ our ideas, concerns and values. Truth be told, and even in the teaching forum; some people rather fit the student , a) not with the student’s own insights and inclinations…or b) a muzzle.

  2. 11/03/2010 at 7:55 am

    These issues really are worth looking at. I do a blog solely on free speech issues on college campuses: http://letmypupilsgo.wordpress.com/

    Things of this nature are very complicated to sort out, because there’s always the question of “what happens to your rights when you step on the private property of a university?”

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