Nick Phillips, Research Associate at Heterodox Academy and President of the NYU School of Law Federalist Society, has a new piece in the Washington Examiner looking at why recent efforts by Conservative lawmakers to pass laws requiring public universities to protect free speech are, in actuality, misguided initiatives.
Some excerpts from the op-ed:
So if viewpoint diversity is cratering in academia, why not use legislation to support it? There are a few good reasons to be skeptical.
The first is grounded in the psychological principle of “reactance” – people tend to do the opposite of what they’re told if they don’t trust the source of the command. Republican legislatures that require universities to institute certain policies are likely to stir up new opposition to those policies—and to the goal of viewpoint diversity. Progressive professors and administrators will operate on the principle that if a Republican likes it, it must be bad. That may be irrational, but it means that the approach threatens to kill whatever movements are growing on campus for pro-speech policies.
This points us toward the second reason to be skeptical of the legislative route: it reproduces the problem it attempts to solve. Free speech is threatened on campus because students have been taught to seek authoritarian, administrative solutions to social frictions. Hardier, more autonomous students of previous eras might have talked through disagreements and feelings of offense, but today’s students demand Bias Response Teams, heavy-handed diversity training, and other top-down methods to police their social interactions. There’s a clear connection here with Jonathan Haidt’s observation that the current generation of students grew up with an unprecedented lack of unsupervised play time, and have been socialized to run to a grown-up for help.
So what do these bills do? They reinforce the message that when a community is having trouble navigating competing truth claims, you go outside the community and find an authority figure to put their foot down. The social justice set will get the message. They’ll make sure to have bills of their own at the ready for the next time they get control of a state legislature, and they’ll design administrative countermeasures to resist at the campus level. This is a recipe for polarized stalemate in our divided country.
However, progressives seeking to resist these bills and place restrictions on campus speech should proceed with extreme caution. The bills are a symptom of rapidly changing attitudes toward universities: a recent Pew survey found that a majority of Republicans now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country. In 2015, just 37% of Republicans rated the effect of universities negatively, but in 2017, this shot up to 58%. That means if progressives want to turn universities into ideological fortresses, conservatives will build battering rams. As always, our civic health will be the collateral damage.