Issues

GOP Rep. on Campus Free Speech: Students and Faculty Are ‘Forced Into Self-Censorship’

Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) said Thursday on Capitol Hill that free speech on college campuses is at risk, as students and faculty are "forced into self-censorship" for fear of  "triggering, violating a safe space, a micro-aggression, or being targeted by a bias response team."

Jordan opened the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing Thursday with a video montage showing examples of free speech being suppressed on U.S. college campuses. The clip included incidents at University of California Berkeley, University of Wisconsin Madison, DePaul University, and Middleburry College. Each event consisted of public figures being invited to speak and protesters attempting to shut down the events.   

Jordan said the incidents exemplified how the free flow of ideas on campuses is being restricted.

"Trigger warnings, safe spaces, safe zones, shout-downs, micro-aggressions, bias response teams, and as we saw in the video, even riots on campuses today," Jordan said.

The purpose of the hearing was to identify problems and form solutions in response to the suppression of free speech on college campuses.

"The history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable," Jordan said, quoting a 1974 Yale University Woodward Report.

Jordan said the Woodward Report outlined campus policy that was, "for years, the gold standard for what free speech on campus should look like."

"College is a place for young minds to be intellectually bombarded with new challenging ideas," Jordan said. "Unfortunately, today on many campuses students and faculty are forced into self censorship out of a fear of triggering, violating a safe space a micro aggression, or being targeted by a biased response team."

Jordan referenced an incident at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., which he called "the most recent example of how not to promote free speech on campus."

"Students and even faculty at Evergreen State College berated and even threatened a professor for even questioning why a new campus initiative could not be debated," Jordan said. "The police eventually stepped in to warn the professor it was no longer safe … for him to actually come to campus."

"The college administrators stood by and did nothing," Jordan said. "In fact, when asked to defend their behavior and speech policies, Evergreen’s president George Bridges refused to testify."

Jordan was referring to Bret Weinstein, a biology professor at Evergreen State College who "supported Bernie Sanders, admiringly retweets Glenn Greenwald, and was an outspoken supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement," the New York Times reportedIn April, he was labeled "racist" and effectively barred from campus after he questioned an "invitation" for all white faculty and staff members to leave campus during a "Day of Absence."

Jordan made it clear that the work was just beginning, and Thursday's hearing was the second in a series intended to "highlight the First Amendment."

"This committee is committed to help colleges reinstate the freedom of speech as an important protection," Jordan said. "After all, it's no coincidence that the Constitution's framers prioritized the freedom of speech in the First Amendment."