There are hidden costs to earning a diploma, much the same way there are hidden costs when a person buys a car or a house. Unforeseen expenses sneak up on a person and — like any big-ticket purchase — should factor into a person’s decision on where to attend college.
One hidden expense in higher education, for example, is the toll unconstitutional policies take on a person’s First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of assembly. Young adults heading to college should factor this expense into their calculations when settling on which school to attend.
The University of Michigan in a recent settlement with Speech First agreed to never again mobilize its now-defunct bias-response team. This happened after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled against the program, created to combat bullying, on the grounds it’s overly broad and has crippling effects on students’ free-speech rights.
“The Response Team’s ability to make referrals — i.e., to inform (the Office of Student Conflict Resolution) or the police about reported conduct — is a real consequence that objectively chills speech,” writes Judge David W. McKeague in the majority opinion.
Feedback from a University of Michigan student reinforces the federal-appeals-court decision. “If somebody found something hateful, or if they understood it as hate speech or offensive, then they could report you and you could face punishment from some bureaucracy from the college,” said Austin McIntosh during a recent interview.
“I think that these bias-response teams create an environment where … when you bring in your conservative morals and values, it pops and people get upset. And, it’s sad to see.”
What’s even sadder is that there are other colleges and universities across the country with similar so-called bias-response teams. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education estimates there are more than 230 such bias-reporting systems in place on campuses both public and private across the country. Beware of these landmines in higher education.
As the members of the Wall Street Journal editorial board said, “Those schools would be wise to drop these practices before they end up in court trying to defend their own indefensible violations of the First Amendment.”
If schools, however, do have the audacity to continue to clamp down on students’ free-speech rights, the legal precedent laid out by the federal appeals court will help litigants’ take offensive measures to protect their God-given civil rights.
The loss of one’s civil liberties should never be the price one pays for a piece of paper meant to convey qualifications to a prospective employer. It’s far too high a cost for an experience that should be marked by exploration and rigorous academic inquiry.
Students and faculty should instead retain an open mind to other people’s thoughts and perspectives. As Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan says, “(W)hat I’ve learned most is that no one has a monopoly on truth or wisdom. I’ve learned that we make progress by listening to each other, across every apparent political or ideological divide.”
Members of the more than 230 remaining bias-response systems across the country would do well to remember Justice Kagan’s words, and students should hold their ground and refuse to attend any college or university that would make them exchange their civil liberties for a coercive political orthodoxy.