Department of Education Launches Free-Speech Hotline

ED says it will combat censorship of 'dissenting voices'

Princeton University / Getty Images
December 10, 2020

The Department of Education has launched a "free speech hotline" to combat the censorship of "dissenting voices" on college campuses.

The department unveiled the hotline at an event on Tuesday and said it will give college students the ability to report campus free-speech violations directly to the department, which can then investigate the incidents. The creation of the hotline follows months of racial unrest and a renewed push to punish students, faculty, and others who espouse ideas that do not comport with left-wing ideology.

Private organizations, such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the Young America's Foundation, already offer similar hotlines. In a September report, FIRE discovered an unprecedented number of First Amendment violations amid the ongoing wave of racial protests. A separate FIRE study found that 88 percent of American universities maintain policies that restrict free expression. Many of these restrictions exist at public universities, where the First Amendment is legally binding.

Bob King, assistant secretary for post-secondary education, said during the event that threats to free speech are incongruent with living "in free society."

"[Cancel culture is] dangerous not only because it shuts out conservative voices, but also cancels all dissenting voices," King said. "It chills free speech and prohibits pursuit of the truth, and has no place in free society."

The rollout of the hotline follows the launch of several high-profile investigations into taxpayer-funded schools. The Education Department is currently investigating whether Princeton University violated the Civil Rights Act when its president said that racism remains "embedded" in the university. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is also under investigation after a series of anti-Semitic incidents caught the department's attention.

The free-speech hotline was created with students in mind, though it may prove beneficial for professors as well. Bret Weinstein, formerly a biology professor at Evergreen State College, detailed his experience of campus censorship during the Education Department's online announcement. After activists demanded that white students stay off campus for a day to highlight racial injustice, Weinstein sent a university-wide email criticizing the demand. His email sparked a violent campaign of harassment, which the university did little to quell, and Weinstein ended up resigning from the college at which he had taught for 15 years, citing its descent into "anarchy and madness."

"This isn't just a free-speech crisis, it is in no way limited to college campuses, and it is far more dangerous than the term 'cancel culture' suggests," Weinstein said at Tuesday's event. "The movement wields incredible power, it often silences critics, and the control of free speech is a means to the end."