Recently, I spoke to a group of College Republicans at the University of Dayton. Their curiosity, eagerness to learn and intelligence impressed me. They asked hard questions and shared some remarkable insights of their own. One concern about what was going on at campuses around the country was Ohio State’s recent, unexplained decision to stifle students speech by banning them from decorating their dorm windows with messages made out of Stickynotes, a longstanding and beloved tradition. Another student at Auburn University was ordered to remove a Ron Paul sign, but no signs from other candidates received the same treatment.
Sadly, their concern is not without cause. College is supposed to be a unique time and place where students get to learn about themselves and others and develop the critical thinking skills necessary to participate in our constitutional republic. Increasingly, however, this opportunity is coming under attack. The only way this process of growth and self-discovery can work is if you’re exposed to new ideas and can engage with them thoughtfully and rationally. And the only way you can encounter new ideas is if both you and others have freedom of speech – the right to say what you think without fear of legal repercussions or physical threat.
The First Amendment defends this right, or at least it was supposed to, but more and more we’re seeing universities ignore this basic human freedom in favor of their own restrictive policies and procedures. Safe spaces, free speech zones and speech codes – all of these ultimately undermine what a university is really about in the first place.