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Protecting Free Speech on College Campuses

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Mike Adams, a criminology professor at UNC-Wilmington and nationally syndicated columnist for Townhall.com, speaks about the current state of free speech on college and university campuses..

Mike Adams discusses free speech on college campuses


Family Policy Matters
Transcript: Protecting Free Speech on College Campuses

JOHN RUSTIN: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Today, we are going to discuss the current state of free speech on college and university campuses, as well as efforts being made to protect the First Amendment rights of students, faculty and other staff to free speech. Our guest today is Dr. Mike Adams, a criminology professor at UNC-Wilmington and nationally syndicated columnist for Townhall.com. Dr. Adams is recognized as an outspoken critic of the diversity movement on college campuses and the resulting limitations those policies and that movement is placing on free speech. No stranger to this issue, Dr. Adams endured a successful seven-year legal battle after UNC-Wilmington denied him a promotion in 2006 because of his conservative views, despite his position as a tenured professor.

Dr. Mike Adams, welcome to Family Policy Matters, it’s great to have you back on the show….

MIKE ADAMS: And thank you so much for having me.

JOHN RUSTIN: It’s our pleasure. Now Dr. Adams, recently, we’ve heard about speakers being shouted down or even prohibited from visiting and speaking on college and university campuses across the country, and also about students receiving lower grades for speaking or writing from a conservative viewpoint in their classes. Based on your extensive experience, are these occurrences outliers or are they really becoming the norm these days?

MIKE ADAMS: They’re not outliers, the problem of free speech and higher education and the accompanying political bias, the slant, and we can’t disconnect those by the way, we only have a free speech problem on our campus because the professoriate is dominated by leftist. That’s been an issue for 75 years, probably, on our college campuses, but it has gotten worse in recent years because professors are increasingly not liberal. You know we talk about liberal bias in higher education, but liberalism presupposes some level of tolerance, these professors are now being replaced by leftists who are essentially coming from postmodernist perspective, who believe that rights don’t belong to individuals but instead belong to groups. And that’s where the whole speech code problem comes from, this idea we have to protect certain groups from offensive speech that might marginalize them. And all of this is happening, this radical change in the worldview of the professoriate has caused the problem to get significantly worse in recent years. There’s been a lot of focus on what happens in the college classroom with films such as God’s Not Dead, but really to be honest with you the big change in recent years has been that it’s spread far beyond the classroom to the general administration where student groups, Christian groups for example, can’t even walk around on campus and pass out pamphlets, and even political groups can’t even pass out copies of the Constitution because they’re setting up things like speech zones and speech codes and things of that nature. So it’s clearly a problem that’s getting worse, not better.

JOHN RUSTIN: And we’ve certainly seen a recent case like that at NC State University, of a college Christian organization that was not allowed the same rights as other similarly situated organizations to even walk up and have a conversation with students. It’s just amazing.

MIKE ADAMS: The very idea that you have to have permit to share the gospel on a college campus; no the Constitution is my speech permit.

JOHN RUSTIN: Right, and Mike, we see in response to some of these protests and these activities that some campuses say that they cancel or prohibit certain speakers or events because of safety concerns. How should the legitimate concern about safety of students, faculty and other staff, be balanced with ensuring a free marketplace for the exchange of ideas on college and university campuses?

MIKE ADAMS: We just need to understand that when a university administration says that they’re cancelling a speech because they have safety concerns that they are lying through their teeth. Let me explain why, in recent years there’s been a false statistic out there that has suggested that sexual assault has gone up by 50 percent on our college campuses. That’s a false statistic that’s been created by changes in reporting practices mandated by the Obama Administration. But because those statistics are out there parents constantly call universities and say “Hey, is this a safe place for me to send my daughter?” And they always reassure them, “No, we can create a safe campus environment, we don’t have safety problems and we can control the campus sexual assault problem.” Really? You can police that across campus but you can’t handle a crowd in an isolated speech? No, of course they can. It’s easy to handle these situations if they simply enforce the law.

JOHN RUSTIN: Mike, the North Carolina House of Representatives just passed a bill to help preserve free speech on college and university campuses. House Bill 527, and now that bill is awaiting consideration by the NC Senate. If enacted, what exactly would this bill do to help address these problems that we’ve been discussing?

MIKE ADAMS: We have already dealt with a couple of very serious problems in higher education through legislation. One is the problem of due process and giving students rights to counsel, the other is religious liberty and autonomy of students groups, which really is a First Amendment issue. The two remaining issues that we haven’t dealt with are the problem of speech zones, which suggest that only a small area of the campus, say one percent in some cases, is a place where you can engage in free speech. The other is speech codes, which say that in those limited areas where you engage in free speech you’re not allowed to engage in offensive speech. And John, we all know that offensive speech is just whenever someone decided to be offended they’re essentially trying to issue a heckler’s veto and shutdown someone’s speech. We all know what a dangerous, dangerous concept that is, and that hasn’t been dealt with. So HB 527 deals with those two issues of speech zones and speech codes, so I think it’s a very good measure, I’m glad we’re finally doing it.

JOHN RUSTIN: Mike as a professor in a relatively large public university setting for decades now, what kind of progression do you typically see in the attitudes and mindsets of students, say when they arrive on campus verses when they leave campus?

MIKE ADAMS: I definitely have seen a change. You know we’ve got the general problem that they just change in general; they loose a Christian worldview when they come to a college campus because the churches really aren’t teaching it these days. We’ve got this big worldview shift that goes on, and that’s really not unrelated to their changes on the issue of free speech. Say that you abandon the Christian worldview and you adopt sort of this post-modern view of the world that sees the truth as being this arbitrary function of struggles between competing groups out there, and then you begin to accept the idea of speech codes because they empower certain groups that had previously been disenfranchised. This is dangerous, you definitely see this happening with kids these days. When I go in the classroom and ask them questions about freedom of expression and should a certain idea be allowed, they will sit there and talk about the idea of having a ban on hate speech. They just legitimately accept that hate speech is not protected by the constitution. Well then you actually proceed to ask them to define hate speech and they can’t do it. They increasingly simply trust the university to define what hate speech is for them, and that is dangerous. You know it’s much easier to deprive young people of their rights when they don’t know what their rights are, and that’s the shift that we’re seeing and that’s what concerns me. I’m working on all these initiatives to preserve their rights and it’s like I’m trying to hand them their rights, they’re looking at me and sticking their hand our and saying no, no, no we don’t want them, we’d rather just be comfortable.

JOHN RUSTIN: That is a concern. And you mentioned before the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) they do a rating system of free speech on college campuses and have recognized three universities in North Carolina that have earned their highest “green light” ranking for upholding free speech on campus. But other than UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Greensboro, and NC Central University, which are the three, most of our college and universities are given the middle-ground yellow light ranking. Why is that and what are some ways that we can work to change it?

MIKE ADAMS: HB 527 is really going to take care of it for us, it really is. It’s going to clause them to relinquish certain policies. And why is it the case that we have this lack of uniformity? I’ll just say it and it sounds really harsh, but I consider it to be the incompetence of the UNC General Counsel office. It is inexcusable, I understand that it’s very harsh language, but let me provide an example. After the Alpha Iota Omega lawsuit took place a number of years ago, you remember that case when a Christian organization at UNC Chapel Hill was being forced to admit non-Christians as voting members and as officers, they had to go sue and when a federal injunction in Greensboro, and six months after they won that federal lawsuit when the FIRE did it’s very first report, that was actually in Fall 2005, on speech codes and freedom of association, they found out that 13 of the 16 at the time UNC schools still had the same policy that got Alpha Iota Omega basically got them that injunction and that got UNC Chapel Hill sued. It really raises the question what does UNC General Counsel do other than go to the legislature and lobby against things like HB 527. It’s their job to go and avoid lawsuits by getting rid of policies that have gotten universities sued before. They should have done exactly the same thing on the issue of speech codes as well. There should be more uniformity and it circles right back around to HB 527, it will impose that uniformity just as the religious liberty bill did that was passed back in July 2014. You guys were part of that effort along with the FIRE and with the Locke Foundation. And look at what’s happened, a lot of people look and say well we’ve got the Constitution so we don’t need a state law. Well I don’t know, take a look at what happened in the wake of that state law, we don’t have a problem with freedom of association anymore on our campuses because it imposed that uniformity and so that’s why we’re going to the legislature again. And so the short answer, I guess that wasn’t a short answer, but the reason we have this chaos is that we have an administration that’s been in attendant to these issues.

JOHN RUSTIN: Mike, what can parents and college students do if they find themselves in a situation where they believe their right to free speech has been infringed upon?

MIKE ADAMS: I do believe that, first of all it’s very important for students when they get into free speech controversies on campus to turn to organizations like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The Alliance Defending Freedom has a Center for Academic Freedom as well, but also they should keep their parents informed in the process and have their parents write directly to the administration, including to the Chancellor. I’ve actually seen that be effective on our campus, the angry parent who writes to the Chancellor actually can be very effective, and parents definitely need to be involved in their kids education. That’s often an overlooked step in the process.

JOHN RUSTIN: With that, I want to challenge our listeners, if you do hear of instances or experience these yourselves, don’t just sit idly by and let these things happen. Challenge them, reach out to these organizations that Mike Adams has mentioned, contact the Family Policy Council and let us know how we can help, and we will certainly work if we can’t help to resolve the issue directly, we will point you in the direction of folks that can. Well Mike in addition to parents and college students, clearly we have allumni of many of our institutions of higher learning that are listeners and supporters of the Family Policy Council, and who live in the state and who would be concerned about these things. What can they do as allumns of colleges and universities in North Carolina to have an impact on this very important matter.

MIKE ADAMS: I think that Allumns of all of these organizations, or I should say all of these universities across North Carolina that don’t have green-light ratings actually should withhold their donations. For example this episode that occurred last summer at NC State where Grace Christian was required to have a permit, and then they were told after they got a permit that they had to sit behind a table and they couldn’t wonder around the union to share the gospel with people, after they already had evidence that secular groups had not been given the same restrictions. Basically the university was caught and they decided to fight and litigate the issue and they ended up wasting a lot of taxpayer money before they were defeated in court. But ultimately the real message that it sends is that we can only win if we fight, and if we fight we can win.

JOHN RUSTIN: And with that Dr. Mike Adams I want to thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters. For you great insights and your tireless efforts to ensure free speech rights for students, faculty and other staff on college and university campuses.

MIKE ADAMS: Thank you so much for having me.

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