Alexander: Universities Should Be Places Where People of Different Views Speak, Audiences Listen, and Contrasting Viewpoints Are Encouraged

Posted on October 26, 2017

“There is a long history of shouting down speakers with whom students and other members of the university community disagree or take offense on college campuses. … Shouting down speakers is not the only issue. There is the question of political one-sidedness, that there is a pervasive point of view on many college campuses. I would argue that on many campuses conservative students get the best education. Liberal students can be guilty of lazy thinking because they agree with their professors, while conservative students learn to be on their toes.” 

WASHINGTON, October 26, 2017 — Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said “universities should be the place where people of different views may speak, audiences can listen, and many contrasting viewpoints are encouraged.”

“There is a long history of shouting down speakers with whom students and other members of the university community disagree or take offense on college campuses,” Alexander said. “When I was a student in the 1960’s at Vanderbilt University, the John Birch Society wanted my political science professor fired. They said he was a communist because he thought World War I was a mistake.”

Alexander continued: “Now, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction and it is usually voices of conservative professors and speakers that are being squelched. Allison Stanger was assaulted by students at Middlebury College as she was leaving a disrupted discussion she had moderated by conservative author Charles Murray.”

“Shouting down speakers is not the only issue. There is the question of political one-sidedness, that there is a pervasive point of view on many college campuses. I would argue that on many campuses conservative students get the best education. Liberal students can be guilty of lazy thinking because they agree with their professors, while conservative students learn to be on their toes.”

“There is also the question of deliberately inflammatory speakers, and the protests and riots in response that push the freedom of speech to a limit that creates chaos,”Alexander continued. “Sometimes these demonstrations turn into tragedy as we saw recently in Charlottesville. If you’re a university president, what do you do about this? There should be some sensible way to allow speakers to speak and audiences to listen while still protecting freedoms offered by the First Amendment.”

The Senate education committee today held a hearing titled “Exploring Free Speech on College Campuses.” The witnesses included Dr. Richard Zimmer, President of the University of Chicago, Nadine Strossen, New York Law School professor and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, Dr. Allison Stanger, professor at Middlebury College, and J. Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Alexander’s full remarks are available here.

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