Greg Lukianoff is like an undertaker who, because he sees dead bodies all day long in his place of business, thinks that a plague has struck the city. It’s pointless to talk about anecdotes if we want to know how severe the problem of campus censorship is. FIRE should retain an independent polling firm to conduct a survey of college students. It should ask them whether they or their classmates have been punished by university authorities for making politically controversial statements on campus. After the poll results are in, I would be happy to continue the debate about whether a problem exists or not. In the meantime, I’m inclined to believe my students, who have no reason to lie to me, and who are closer to a representative sample of college undergraduates than the people from whom FIRE receives complaints.
Beyond that, I hope that we can agree to debate things that we disagree about, and not things we agree about. I tried to make it clear in my opening essay that I’m not going to criticize or defend students who want to restrict speech. I’m only interested in the question how campus authorities should regulate speech. I see no point in analyzing this question from a First Amendment perspective, as Catherine J. Ross does, because, first, the debate is about private universities, not public universities, and private universities are not prohibited by the First Amendment from regulating the speech of students. Second, the question is what private universities should do, not what they are legally required to do. Third, First Amendment doctrine reflects judgments, tradeoffs, and compromises by justices addressing conflicts that, 99% of the time, arose outside of campus. I don’t see how it can provide much guidance for resolving the conflicts that arise on campus.
I hope the starting point for debate will be this: how can universities best achieve their mission, which is to produce, retain, and transmit knowledge? I think we can agree, at least for purposes of this discussion, that university administrators should not try to censor research or interfere with teaching. We are talking, then, about the limited case of student living arrangements, student groups, public speakers, student protests, and the like. Many of Lukianoff and Ross’ comments extend far beyond this topic.
(For the record, while Lukianoff thinks that I support blasphemy laws, I don’t!)