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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
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Thursday, August 9, 2018

Campus Free Speech Data Point To A Surprising Problem: Anti-Left Bias

Vox, Data Shows a Surprising Campus Free Speech Problem: Left-wingers Being Fired for Their Opinions:

The American college campus, we are led to believe, is a dangerous place: If you say what you really think, particularly as a conservative, a mob of young social justice warriors will come for your faculty position or invitation to speak on campus. Entire books and online magazines are premised on the idea that political correctness is sweeping the American university, threatening both higher education and the broader right to free speech.

But a brand new data analysis from Georgetown University’s Free Speech Project suggests that this “crisis” is more than a little overblown. There have been relatively few incidents of speech being squelched on college campuses, and there’s in fact limited evidence that conservatives are being unfairly targeted.

The Free Speech Project’s researchers have cataloged more than 90 incidents since 2016 that fit their criteria for a person’s free speech rights being threatened. Of those 90, about two-thirds took place on college campuses. These incidents range from a speaker being disinvited to a faculty member being fired over allegedly offensive comments to a student-run play being canceled over concerns it would offend. ...

Jeffrey Sachs, a political scientist at Canada’s Acadia University, put together a database of all incidents where a professor was dismissed for political speech in the United States between 2015 and 2017. Sachs’s results, published by the left-libertarian Niskanen Center, actually found that left-wing professors were more likely to be dismissed for their speech than conservative ones:


The pro-free speech Foundation for Individual Rights in Education keeps a database of speaker disinvitations from campuses. It finds only a handful of disinvitations — somewhere between 20 and 42 — in every year between 2011 and 2017. The highest single-year spike, from 21 in 2015 to 42 in 2016, is mostly the work of one provocateur launching an intentionally inflammatory college tour.

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You have to look at source. Vox is very left. This is hardly a neutral source.

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Aug 9, 2018 2:50:51 AM

That's all well and good, but this is similar to the problem faced by gun advocates in proving the number of crimes that were prevented by concealed carry. It is much harder to obtain evidence for an event that has not occurred.

How many conservative speakers were denied a visit (rather than disinvited). How many had massive required "security fees" that blocked an appearance? How about the overall chilling effect on campus speech created by the dominant progressive atmosphere. I can tell you that when I was a conservative/libertarian student at an Ivy League university, I certainly felt it and kept my politics tightly under wrap.

Posted by: Todd | Aug 9, 2018 10:27:08 AM

"The highest single-year spike, from 21 in 2015 to 42 in 2016, is mostly the work of one provocateur launching an intentionally inflammatory college tour."
Oh, he's a "provocateur." Well, I'm sure that's not a loaded, biased term, and his speech doesn't count. I'm glad you cleared that up.

Posted by: Anonymous | Aug 9, 2018 10:38:47 AM

The press is increasingly skeptical of these dubious "free speech crisis" claims advanced by right wing groups to try to take over universities.

And it's not just Vox. Even the National Review ran an article recently warning conservatives that they were turning "Free Speech" into an all purpose tool for whatever conservatives want (de-regulation, expelling student protestors, politicizing universities) and as a result "free speech" was loosing its luster.

Posted by: Campus speech | Aug 10, 2018 9:48:23 AM

Perhaps it's an indication that the leftist on campus are far more extreme than the Conservatives. There aren't many real Rightists on campuses these days.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Aug 10, 2018 11:22:06 AM

Oh, look - it's a reference to the story that had everyone laughing at that law professor who suggested that the Koch brothers' eight-figure donation to George Mason was proof that they were trying to discredit higher education.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Aug 10, 2018 12:45:09 PM

Mike Livingston: "You have to look at source. Vox is very left. This is hardly a neutral source."

I'll do you one better. I looked at the raw data Vox used to draw it's sophomoric conclusion:

Of the 26 incidents in 2017, 5 involved private religious universities taking action for "anti-Christian" speech. Ironically, one of those was a female professor who was fired for expressing a pro-life position. The remaining 21 incidents were at public or private non-religious institutions, and the complaints were split 50/50 between conservatives and liberals.

Here are some of the reasons why conservative students complained and liberal professors were fired or disciplined:

- Tweets criticizing Trump and expressing wish that someone would shoot him
- Tweeted about "future dead cops"
- Tweeted that he would be "ok" if Secretary Betsy Devos was sexually assaulted
- Tweet calling Hurricane Harvey "karma" for Texas voters who supported GOP

Here are some of the reasons why liberal students complained and professors (not all were conservative) were fired or disciplined:

- Used the word "God" in a letter to students
- Criticized student protest
- Criticized the university for endorsing "safe spaces"
- Used the n-word to illustrate how little she is exposed to racism

Notice a pattern, there? Professors get fired for saying far less if they're conservative, that's obvious.

Leaving aside the fact that 26 firings for speech complaints is a drop in the bucket, there are over 4 million college faculty and employees in America, and leaving aside the fact that public and non-religious universities lean left and are awash in political speech mostly from the left, the double standard still exists.

And Vox really does stink, because it didn't take me very long to get right to the heart of the matter. They're headline is false and misleading. There is no anti-left bias. When conservative students complained, it was because of very incendiary speech that probably violated codes of conduct. But conservative professors, or professors who just ticked off liberal students, were canned for saying far less inflamatory things.


Posted by: MM | Aug 10, 2018 8:20:24 PM