On May 22, 2018, the U. S. House of Representatives Government Reform and Oversight Committee examined the free speech crisis on college campuses. Since few universities do not receive federal funding, their interest is not inconsequential.
One of the three academic witnesses they called—Bret Weinstein—identified himself as a “professor in exile” from Evergreen State College. Weinstein—like the other two witnesses the committee called on from academe—could distinctly be described as on the left of the political spectrum.
Nevertheless, only one member of the trio—Shaun Harper of the University of Southern California—downplayed the free speech crisis. The other—Allison Stranger of Middlebury College in Vermont—was at the center of one free speech controversy, and put herself in some physical jeopardy—when she tried to come between a visiting conservative speaker, Charles Murray, and the mob at her college that objected to his mere presence there for a lecture/debate.
“The dialogue on campus that emerged thereafter was one that surprised me greatly,” Stranger told the congressional committee. “Everyone condemned the violence, but few saw a connection between the shutdown efforts and what happened to me.”
“The inconvenient truth of my serious injuries was instead portrayed as unfortunate collateral damage unconnected to the censorship of speech—essentially, my whiplash and concussion were beside the point. Fifteen months later, I am still being treated for my injuries.”
Weinstein was accused of racism by students who disrupted his class—a groundless accusation especially given his progressive credentials. “On the second day of unrest, the police chief called me,” he told congressmen last month. “Rioters were stopping traffic and searching for someone, car to car.”
“The chief believed it was me. She was worried for my safety and helpless to protect me as the president had ordered her force to ‘stand down.’ What would have transpired if the rioters had found me? I still don’t know, and I strongly suspect they don’t either.”
For his part, Harper claims that such incidents are the exception, not the norm, on campus. “College student activists are often accused of attempting to suppress their professors’ speech,” the Provost Professor of Education and Business at USC told committee members. “In 2016, there were 1,430,390 instructional faculty members at degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the U.S.”
“Reports of attempted speech suppression are relatively low and sporadic, not widespread. Even if 10,000 professors (a hypothetically high number) experienced aggressive encounters with student activists and other so-called speech suppressors on their campuses, that would be just 0.7% of postsecondary faculty members across the country. This seems like such a low number to warrant so much national conversation about professors’ freedom of speech supposedly being under attack by our students.”