HomeInvestmentWould Universities Defend Dissident Voices?

Would Universities Defend Dissident Voices?

Editor’s note: In this Future View, students discuss if universities would defend their students. Next week we’ll ask, “Last month, a British school, the University of Salford, announced that it would no longer assign the reading of sonnets, since such poems are the ‘products of white western culture.’ Should art be judged on whether it was ‘colonized’ or ‘colonizer’ culture, or on other political criteria? Is it possible to have good art with bad politics?” Students should click here to submit opinions of fewer than 250 words before July 5. The best responses will be published that night. Email here for more information on how to add your voice to our Future View



Social media allows voices to be heard, with people banding together for common causes. Both those goods have a darker side, with social media allowing dangerous conspiracies to be spread and harsh political beliefs to polarize a nation.

The consequence is that taking a political side can be dangerous for an institution, even in defense of a student. Universities run on tuition paid by their students, and with tuition so high, students may choose colleges that promote views aligned with their own. Promoting specific political opinions would be harmful to the future of the institution, and if I were attacked on social media for a political opinion, I would not expect my school to defend me.

—Sophie Ray, Northeastern University, electrical engineering

Students Should Expect to Be Investigated

The investigation of a supposedly racist tweet is a typical story on my campus, where

Ilya Shapiro

ended up quitting his job at Georgetown University Law Center after the school displayed an intolerance for freedom of speech. Identity politics, matched with tiptoeing quietly so as not to offend anyone, is seen as admirable in spite of its crippling effect on the free exchange of ideas.

My first semester, I was told there existed a blacklist that students had created—a place to check up on whether a potential employee, club member or friend was evil for such reasons as supporting

Donald Trump

or being pro-life. I do not expect my classmates or my school to agree with me on everything, but I should not fear being blacklisted for my political beliefs.

Voltaire once said, “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.” I do not expect my college to say anything similar. I know that I must hold and share beliefs without expecting institutions to support my right to express them. I must even expect they will investigate my expressions.

—Luke T. Anderson, Georgetown University, biology and economics

Lively and Fearless Freedom

If I were to find myself in the cross-hairs of the social-media mob, any call for defense from my university would likely fall on deaf ears. Defending me amid such an attack would not serve the school’s interests. Colleges today are often more concerned with placating a political mob than being a robust and uninhibited venue for speech.

Any optimism should turn to pessimism when considering whether an institution will defend the right to express diverse and unpopular opinions. Outside academia, private businesses have no responsibility to defend their employees’ opinions, since their chief responsibility is their bottom line. But publicly funded universities have a duty to support the First Amendment, and even private universities should seriously uphold their role as places for the free exchange of ideas.

My university does not have to defend my ideas, but it must defend the freedom to express those ideas. All educational institutions should take a lesson from the University of Chicago and adopt the Chicago Principles: a commitment to recognize the responsibility to “promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.” Anything but a total commitment to these principles would be antithetical to the mission of an educational institution.

—Richard Hammond III, Ohio State University, political science and French

Emphasize Our Conduct

I don’t think my school would jump to defend me if something cancel-worthy were to come out about me. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however. My college does not participate in cancel culture or any sort of mass-media movement beyond education. It advertises itself, of course, but it also explains why the sort of education it offers is valuable. It remains focused on using its platform to serve the interests of the institution itself: to educate and promote a more well-informed citizenry. Many faculty and staff, however, are outspoken on social media, and these are the ones who I believe would defend me: the people who know me personally, who’ve seen the work I produce and the values I carry with me.

These are the people who would put their personal reputations on the line without relying on the cushion of their institution to defend them. Although it would be nice to have the backing of an accredited institution—especially now, when social media can be particularly damning—in the long run it would promote institutional participation in mob behavior and more divisive conduct. The best defense that students and employees can receive is having their privacy protected and their actual conduct clarified, rather than entertaining unsupported information from questionable sources.

—Alexa Robbins, Hillsdale College, English

Click here to submit a response to next week’s Future View.

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