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Bias Response Teams Silence Civic Debate




"Bias response teams" crack down on speech on college campuses. George La Noue writes:

Carol Swain, a Professor of political science and Law at Vanderbilt, wrote an op-ed in Nashville’s major newspaper titled “Charlie Hebdo attacks prove critics were right about Islam.” Though she made no reference to anything on her campus, more than 1,500 Vanderbilt students and alumni signed an online petition originally asking that she be disciplined. When Vanderbilt’s Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos commented on the controversy, he did not suggest that the role of Islam in the world be debated, speakers be invited, or that any other educational programs be initiated. He did not describe or discuss any of Swain’s specific ideas. Instead he wrote:

"I have heard and appreciate the serious concerns of our students and alumni who have signed an on-line petition calling for the suspension of Carol Swain…. Professor Swain’s opinions are her own. They do not reflect the opinions of the university in any way. They are not my opinions, the opinions of the provost, or the opinions of the university leadership."

Chancellor Zeppos further explained his motivation: “Ensuring that our campus is a safe, welcoming place and supportive environment for every member of the Vanderbilt community has been and always will be our top priority.” He conceded that freedom of speech is important at Vanderbilt, but he added that “speech whose sole purpose or effect is to discriminate, stigmatize, retaliate, offend, foment hatred or violence, or cause harm has no place in this university.” But if speech that has the “effect” of offending someone has no legitimate academic role, then could a professor safely compare sharia law to the Bill of Rights or, for that matter, discuss any topic relating to religion in a classroom or an op-ed?

In short, the growth of [bias response teams] and the absence of campus policy debates stem from the same motivation to make campuses inclusive and welcoming to every student, even at the cost of insulating them from the controversies which will decide the future of our democracy. Students—whether they are full time or part-time, residential or non-residential, away from home for the first time or combat veterans—are regarded as wards of campus administrators, not as full citizens.

[George La Noue, “Bias Response Teams Silence Civic Debate,” Law & Liberty, March 2]


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