One topic that has been, ultimately, underreported on through the media in this election cycle is what will happen to freedom of speech and academic freedom on a college campus. It is safe to say that both presidential candidates only have spoken on the ever growing student debt crisis and affordable college plans; rather, there has been little said, even by the punditry (guilty as charged), on how a possible-Clinton or possible-Trump White House will approach the war against the first amendment in higher academia.
Republican Nominee Donald Trump, before the last debate earlier this month, told a crowd of millennial-aged voters in Columbus, Ohio, that he wishes to defend free speech on campus. “I will… make it a priority to protect students’ rights to free speech on campus. Do you want free speech? You’ll have it,” Trump stated in a speech via coverage from student correspondents at Campus Reform. “In the past few decades, political correctness—oh, what a terrible term—has transformed our institutions of higher education from ones that had fostered spirited debate to a place of extreme censorship where students are silenced for the smallest of things.”
However, on the other side of the debate, Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton has gone on the record to advocate for the use of safe-spaces on campus and has long been considered an opponent to open campuses, yet alone free expression beyond the college campus. Applying her tendencies of free speech in public policy, briefly, Clinton wishes to compel an initiative to reverse the Citizens United decision and in effect the first amendment of the Bill of Rights which protects freedom of expression, per constitutional authority.
Take her tendencies to the campus, accompanied by her golden horde of political correctness crusaders, Clinton will utilize further crush the idea of academic free speech, as President Barack Obama has, through the use of the Department of Education and their notorious Office of Civil Rights (OCR). OCR has been a recipient of praise, from the hard left, and of scrutiny, from everyone else, for unequally applying Title IX regulations and being engineered to ultimately justify any violation of the first amendment.
Though Trump is no free speech Saint, himself, for keeping out journalists from campaign events and being on record utilizing libel laws to challenge his naysayers, he vows to defund the Department of Education — a move that would dramatically change the free speech climate on public and private campuses across the country.
No matter the outcome of the election, nevertheless, we need to identify some key ideological deficiencies. Clinton’s campaign, in the words of Betsy McCaughey, a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, is,“a referendum on political correctness.” We can all agree that if Hillary Clinton is elected to the highest office in the land, something that is “blood-curdlingly” possible with recent poll data vying in her favor, the college campus and beyond will be even worse off than if a Trump-presidency was at the helm.
I honestly hope that this isn’t a terrible M. Night Shyamalan movie we find ourselves in. This election has been nothing but incomprehensible twists and turns. Just in time for Halloween, am I right?
Regardless, we have to remember that the ultimate decision for a better free speech campus in academics, on campus, and beyond in the “real world,” is dependent on us, the American people. PEN America, a nonprofit organization, emphasized that the free speech climate on campus needs to be turned around and advocated for, even if lowly, harmless jokes are taken in offense. However, when college students, professors, administrators openly admit to limiting certain forms of speech that some may view offensive, the effort is lost unless people understand that free speech is what students need to be well rounded, to provide substantive argument, and to challenge themselves with the most trying topics of our time.