Does the expression “land of the free, home of the brave” still describe America? With the rise of the bureaucratic state and woke culture, we are becoming less free year by year. Rather than being brave in their willingness to defend the Constitution and fundamental rights, increasing numbers of Americans, particularly in the academic world, are seeking to deny others those liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. Are they timid, insecure in their own beliefs, or merely trying to bully others?
Free speech is being suppressed on many college campuses with the adoption of “speech codes” to prevent so-called hate speech. There is nothing in the Constitution that exempts unpopular speech from the free speech guarantees. Our Founding Fathers understood that limitations on free expression would be used to suppress non-majority political views and new or contrary ideas — which is exactly what has been happening.
Columbia University in New York was in the throes of the “free speech” movement during my time there as a graduate student — which sought to end the prohibitions on advocating communism and dirty words in public. The “free speech” movement was largely victorious, but here we are decades later, and Columbia was just listed as having the least freedom of expression of 50 major universities. You can still praise communism. But if you say something like, “There may be inherent differences between men and women” or “It is wrong to discriminate against White men because of the color of their skin,” you are likely to be accused of being a sexist or racist and punished or kicked out rather than allowed to debate the issues — whether you are a faculty member or student.
Having taught at several universities, I found it obvious that while a number of people were attracted to the academic world because they had a passion for teaching or research, too many others were merely womb-seekers, fearful of entering and competing in the real world. Their priorities were security, coupled with as little work as possible and no accountability.
Thus, the opportunity for wage increases was often sacrificed for more secure tenure and reduced teaching loads. As expected, performance has become more and more mediocre in both public schools and colleges. This past week, there was a report that not one student — among tens of thousands — in the Baltimore public schools was at grade level in math. Again, not one student! What do you think would happen if all the Baltimore teachers were told that by the end of the following academic year, at least 30% of their students must be reading and doing math at grade level, or they would be fired?
Before Columbia, I was a graduate student and instructor at Florida State University. It was a great school with many fine academic programs and a picture-perfect traditional campus, and a rising sports powerhouse with great school spirit. FSU is in Tallahassee, which had been a segregated city in the Jim Crow era, and FSU was an all-White school. Both students and faculty members took an active role in desegregating FSU and the city in the 1960s, and the school took pride in the fact that it had become color-blind, where all were measured by their abilities and not the color of their skin.
After desegregation, the sports teams soon had many Black players (surprise, surprise), and FSU went on to become the nationally ranked No. 1 football team. Both students and faculty had a wide range of political and social opinions, and free expression and debate were encouraged. It was an idyllic time and place.
Unfortunately, even the great FSU has been infected by political correctness. Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, just published an article in the City Journal titled “The DEI bureaucracy has seized Florida State University.” In the article, Mr. Rufo details how FSU “has adopted a series of ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ programs that divides Americans along a ‘matrix of oppression,’ castigates Christians for their ‘Christian privilege,’ and offers a racially segregated scholarship that deliberately bars white students from applying.”
Sixty years ago, those involved with FSU knew that race and political discrimination was wrong, and they took action to end it. And what is happening now is also wrong. Fortunately, there is still time to save FSU because a number of faculty members are appalled at what has been happening, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been appointing trustees to the state educational institutions who understand that discrimination is wrong against any group — regardless of skin color or belief.
Mr. DeSantis represents Florida taxpayers, who are justifiably fed up with their hard-earned money being used to support the aims of one political party or point of view. As with any monopoly, the educational establishment is afraid of true debate because it will almost certainly lead to more balance and accountability. It is ironic that a public institution such as FSU is more subject to constructive change — because of responsible, elected officials like Mr. DeSantis — than Ivy League universities like Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Columbia. These schools have such large endowments that their ruling oligarchs (faculty and administrators) naively feel they can ignore forever the imperative to reform or die.
• Richard W. Rahn is chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth and MCon LLC.
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