In less than a week, we’ll see the official fiftieth anniversary of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. And some conservatives worry that college campuses will celebrate that milestone by cracking down particularly on the free speech of conservative students.
Some found it ironic that Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks began the commemoration season with an equivocal email. Dirks encouraged the Berkeley community to remember to temper its yen for free speech with an esteem for the value of civility.
Over the past year, too, campuses nationwide have wrestled with their policies of establishing limited “free-speech zones.” In some cases, conservative students have come under special pressure, either for preaching conservative evangelical religion or for protesting against abortion.
This week in the Wall Street Journal, education scholar and historian Sol Stern lambastes the current climate of campus free speech. As he recalls, as a twenty-seven-year-old graduate student, he stood up for free-speech rights at Berkeley fifty years ago. But nowadays, he laments the trajectory of campus politics. “Though the movement promised greater intellectual and political freedom on campus,” Stern argues,
the result has been the opposite. The great irony is that while Berkeley now honors the memory of the Free Speech Movement, it exercises more thought control over students than the hated institution that we rose up against half a century ago.
Why do today’s campus activists face a more restrictive environment? Stern blames the new dominance of academia by closed-minded leftist autocrats. “Unlike our old liberal professors,” Stern writes,
who dealt respectfully with the ideas advanced by my generation of New Left students, today’s radical professors insist on ideological conformity and don’t take kindly to dissent by conservative students. Visits by speakers who might not toe the liberal line—recently including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Islamism critic Aayan Hirsi Ali —spark protests and letter-writing campaigns by students in tandem with their professors until the speaker withdraws or the invitation is canceled.
There seem to be two questions on the table. First, do campuses need to restrict student speech in order to maintain order? And, second, as Stern and other conservative commentators argue, do conservative students sustain the brunt of these anti-free-speech attacks?