Duke student Sydney Roberts shouts during a protest against House Bill 2 Thursday, March 24, 2016, outside of the Governor’s Mansion on North Blount Street in downtown Raleigh, N.C.Photo: (Jill Knight/The News & Observer via AP)
If you listened to conservatives, you would think that college campuses are a hotbed of socialist censorship, where anyone deviating from a far-left line is subject to punishments that are just this side of being sent to a Maoist re-education camp.
While there are certainly examples of students saying some pretty stupid things, a “free-speech crisis” doesn’t exist. It’s one of those bogeymen that the right likes to conjure up out of thin air.
The fake controversy is a convenient vehicle, however, for conservatives looking to punish campuses for their liberal tendencies.
That’s why the Trump administration has waded into the fight. The Justice Department has joined a challenge to the University of Michigan’s anti-bullying regulations on the ground that it harms–well, bullies.
The Justice Department is framing the issues as about free speech. “Instead of protecting free speech, the university imposes a system of arbitrary censorship of, and punishment for, constitutionally protected speech,” the Department sends in a “statement of interest.”
The case at hand involves a student group that says it was punished for wearing “Make America Great Again” hats.
The particular target of the Trump administration is the university’s Bias Response Team. The Team, the type of which is now common on campuses, takes complaints of bias on a wide range of bases, including sexual orientation and gender identify.
The Justice Department claims that the Bias Response Team chills speech by threatening retaliation for perceived bigotry, even when the comments in dispute are protected under the First Amendment. The University argues that the Justice Department is mischaracterizing the group, which only collects complaints and does not investigate them.
The challenge to the University of Michigan is just one of a series that Republicans around the country have undertaken against higher ed institutions. State legislatures have been passing bills that crack down on student protests–invariably liberal in nature–on free speech grounds.
In short, Republicans have to kill free speech in order to protect it.
Of course, LGBTQ students will be disproportionately impacted by the trend. At the University of Wisconsin, for example, a student can be expelled for infringing on someone’s free speech.
That’s the same university system where Milo Yiannopoulos openly mocked a trans student. Anyone who tried to shout him down for his hateful comments could be penalized, while Yiannopoulos would stroll away scot free.
Most of the Republicans pushing the bills make no bones that they are gunning for liberal students.
Sen. Lamar Alexander went so far to suggest that maybe there should be affirmative action programs for conservative youth, proving once again that Republicans hate government intervention–except when they think it can benefit them.