Colleges Should Compete on Free Speech

Credit: Bing Image Creator. Students engaging in civil free speech in the style of Norman Rockwell.

by James A. Bacon

The U.S. News & World-Report ranking of best U.S. colleges and universities is coming under assault from the left on the grounds that the publication’s methodology gives insufficient weight to social justice considerations. That may be a valid concern… if your priority in selecting a college is social justice. But U.S. News and its lefty alternatives are worthless if your No. 1 concern is ensuring students are exposed to diverse views and feel free to explore ideas that cut against the mainstream.

In an article in RealClear Politics, Edward Yingling and Stuart Taylor suggest that higher-ed institutions should begin differentiating themselves by their commitment to academic freedom. Yingling and Taylor are founders of Princetonians for Free Speech and co-founders with the Jefferson Council of the Alumni Free Speech Alliance.

As the duo observes, many of America’s elite universities have low ratings for free speech in the annual survey conducted by the Foundation for Rights and Expression (FIRE).

“The lists of ‘top colleges’ have varied little in many years. They always include the Ivies, Stanford, MIT, Cal Tech, etc.,” write Yingling and Taylor. “But that could change. Colleges of all types can differentiate themselves on the core values of free speech and academic freedom, and those that do will increasingly attract more and better students, faculty, and employment opportunities for their graduates.”

Write Yingling and Taylor:

Why wouldn’t students want to attend great colleges that have cultures of free speech and academic freedom rather than Princeton, Stanford, Yale, or Harvard, where the culture stifles the free exchange of ideas? Why wouldn’t parents want their children to choose schools where students are not afraid to say what they think? Why wouldn’t more faculty want to teach at schools where academic freedom flourishes? Why wouldn’t employers want to recruit at schools where students are taught how to think for themselves, rather than to bow to orthodoxy? Why would alumni want to continue to give to schools that no longer support the core values they were created to promote?

We at the Jefferson Council agree whole-heartedly with their critique. Despite lip service given to free speech and viewpoint diversity at UVa, Mr. Jefferson’s university is becoming a leftist monoculture. The Board of Visitors can pass well-meaning resolutions but they accomplish little if the Ryan administration does not address an increasingly uniform culture in which students censor themselves in class, faculty hires must pass Diversity, Equity & Inclusion litmus tests, and equal-rights bureaucrats convert alleged microaggressions into inquisitions.

Yet we also believe that a historic opportunity exists for the University of Virginia to position itself as a beacon of free speech and intellectual diversity. By championing liberty and free thinking, UVa has the potential to become the most exciting university in the country to teach, learn and create knowledge. If you share our vision, join our cause.

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Jordan Ball
Jordan Ball
9 months ago

THE University certainly has a marvelous opportunity to become the most exciting university in the country, if the administration would awake to that opportunity rather than remain one of the most woke institutions in the country. Not much chance of that as long as President Ryan is at the helm.

walter smith
walter smith
9 months ago

If the Admin and BOV cared about the quality education of Virginians instead of “Saving Our Democracy” “by any means necessary” (breaking all precedents and normality to defeat Trump since 2015 and to prevent him from running/winning in 2024), this would be so easy. One of the BOVs ignored duties is to preserve its Jeffersonian heritage. Besides the travesty of how UVA handled religious exemption requests during Covid, Jefferson’s belief in free speech was truly (unlike the BOV”s and Admin’s actual as opposed to stated) “unequivocal.”

How could support for free speech at UVA be seen as anything but a true aspirational non-partisan goal? Given the Jeffersonian heritage, why wouldn’t being #1 in free speech (real free speech, not an overly lawyered fig leaf “Statement”) be the goal of a BOV composed of Dem and Rep appointees?

Unfortunately, it appears to me to ask that question is to answer it.

Cut the bureaucracy, cut the worthless courses (half, maybe?), lower costs and truly get back to education and a Grounds where students AND faculty can state their opinions freely without fear of cancellation for deviating from the “narrative.”