U.S. Senate committee hears testimony on college ‘free-speech zones’

WASHINGTON, D.C. —- The U.S. Senate Committee onHealth, Education, Labor and Pensions heard testimony Wednesday on”free-speech zones” at public and private universities, furtherpushing the debate over campus speech rights outside the world ofacademia.Greg Lukianoff, legal director of the Foundation for IndividualRights in Education, testified that 76 of 176 colleges surveyed by FIRErestricted speech that, outside of college campuses, would be protected by theFirst Amendment. FIRE, a Pennsylvania-based organization, has sponsored lawsuitsacross the country in an effort to overturn ”free-speechzones.”Lukianoff testified as part of a hearing on intellectualdiversity on college campuses. The Chronicle of Higher Education reportedthat though no bills on “free-speech zones” have been filed, the committee willlikely hold more hearings on the subject. ”Speech restrictionsthat would be unconstitutional in the outside world are likewiseunconstitutional on public university campuses, regardless of whether or notadministrators believe that such restrictions would advance other values,”Lukianoff said.Lukianoff said that any federal legislation affectingcollege speech should be narrowly tailored to reaffirm speech rights on publiccampuses.”Legislation should remind public universities that theyhave not only a moral, but also a legal duty to protect rather than infringeupon free speech,” he said.He also said that any federallegislation on speech at private colleges should be limited to requiringcolleges that promise free speech rights to adhere to suchpromises.”If ABC College says that it is a liberal artsinstitution devoted to academic freedom, then it should deliver this or else beheld accountable for breaking its contractual assurances to its students,”Lukianoff said.Anne D. Neal, president of the American Council ofTrustees and Alumni, testified that restrictions on free speech are decreasingthe level of intellectual diversity on college campuses. ”Ratherthan fostering intellectual diversity — the robust exchange of ideastraditionally viewed as the very essence of a college education — ourcolleges and universities are increasingly hostile to the free exchange ofideas,” she said.Rather than legislation, Neal suggested thatuniversities make internal efforts to ensure academic and expressive freedoms oncampus.”The American Council of Trustees and Alumni respectfullysubmits that the solutions for this problem are not legislative mandates –but instead fall under the purview of college and university faculty,administrators, and board of trustees,” Neal said.

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