Lawmakers are taking a growing interest in the active suppression of free speech on college campuses funded by American taxpayers — attacks that threaten not just freedom of expression but academic freedom and more. The systematic problems are now ubiquitous at institutions of higher learning, experts explained during a U.S. House subcommittee on March 29.
The data is alarming. Most colleges and universities examined as part of a study had “Bias Reporting Systems” (BRS) that encourage students to report each other for politically incorrect thoughts or words, according to a free-speech watchdog whose chief testified. The majority are public institutions, and virtually all receive taxpayer funding, fueling First Amendment concerns.
The controversial programs, described by critics as tools for enforcing “ideological conformity” and silencing dissent, have proliferated rapidly across America under the guise of “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” (DEI). This is despite federal court rulings blasting the schemes as “the clenched fist in the velvet glove of student speech regulation,” as the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals put it in 2020.
The study by Speech First, a non-profit group committed to upholding free expression, identified 456 institutions out of 824 examined that had “snitch” programs encouraging students to report each other. Breaking the numbers down further, 249 of the colleges and universities with BRSs were public, while 207 were private but still receiving various tax-funded subsidies.
“BRSs actively chill student speech through fear and intimidation,” explained Cherise Trump, executive director of Speech First, in a note about the group’s findings. “Sadly, the students themselves often anonymously report their peers for alleged infractions. By creating a tattle-tale culture, students are empowered to enforce agendas on others.”
Testifying late last month before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development in a hearing titled “Diversity of Thought: Protecting Free Speech on College Campuses,” Trump noted that the problem is getting worse. Most of the BRS programs are housed in DEI offices, where highly paid bureaucrats focus on ideological compliance.
Under the guise of “harassment” and “bias,” Trump explained, colleges and universities are teaching students to snitch on each other for jokes, “microaggressions,” making “unfair” statements, and “not using gender-inclusive language.” “In some cases, even offending someone’s political affiliation is a reportable offense,” the Speech First chief explained.
Other experts who denounced the growing censorship at the hearing included Josiah Joner, an editor of the conservative-leaning Stanford Review at Stanford University. Commenting on the recent student-led attacks against Appeals Court Judge Kyle Duncan, Joner said it was just one “very concerning example” of free speech being shut down. “However, most concerning from this incident was the active role of a university administrator in violating Judge Duncan’s free speech,” Joner said.
Also testifying was constitutional scholar Ilya Shapiro, who has been a victim of the anti-speech extremism on campuses. He told lawmakers about how unhinged leftists, using chanting and banging and shrieking, were even able to shut down an event at U.C. Hastings that he was supposed to speak at last year. Indeed, he was even suspended from his own university over a “poorly phrased” Tweet.
“The trend of canceling speakers instead of challenging them represents the loss of grace in our culture more broadly, the desire to ascribe malign motives to one’s political enemies, to think of them as evil, not merely wrong,” continued Shapiro during his testimony, comparing the protests against him to Occupy Wall Street amid a “higher-ed culture that’s hostile to civil discourse.”
The fact that deranged leftists leeching off taxpayers are able to silence critics and brainwash students unchallenged using the hard-earned money of everyday Americans is not just an outrage, it is an unconstitutional abuse that must end. Lawmakers have an obligation to uphold the Constitution’s protections for freedom of expression in institutions funded by taxpayers — now!