When academia lacks viewpoint diversity, confirmation bias and tribalism infect American universities. Unfortunately, this is the case on many college campuses today.
Diversity is celebrated, but too rarely does this include diversity of thought.
Students at the University of Minnesota (UMN) learned this the hard way in 2018.
It all started when the organization Students for a Conservative Voice (SCV) noticed that conservative opinions were underrepresented on campus and suppressed by faculty and school administrators. To help introduce a different viewpoint to students, SCV invited conservative commentator Ben Shapiro to give a lecture at UMN. Young America’s Foundation also agreed to assist with the event and provide financial support.
But as SCV prepared for the event, university officials began pushing back.
First, when SCV asked to use Willey Hall (a 1,056-person facility on campus) to host the event, the university said no—even though the facility was available. Then, UMN capped the number of attendees to 500 persons and told SCV they could only host the event on UMN’s smaller St. Paul campus, located a good 15-to-20-minute car drive away. This meant that hundreds of students wouldn’t be able to attend the event, effectively silencing Shapiro’s message.
To justify this decision, one university official claimed that Shapiro’s lecture would be “controversial and a security concern.” Campus officials also cited the Large Scale Events Policy which allowed them the freedom to restrict certain events on campus.
Unfortunately, this whole debacle proves that SCV students were right in thinking that conservative opinions were being suppressed at their university. If UMN officials were to keep punishing viewpoints they don’t like and favoring ones they do, free speech and expression will be hampered.
That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit against UMN on behalf of Shapiro, SCV, and YAF in July 2018. And today, ADF attorneys represented them before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.
“University officials don’t have the authority to suppress a particular viewpoint on campus simply because they anticipate some students who disagree with it may not respond well,” said ADF Legal Counsel Jake Warner. “Labeling conservative speech as ‘controversial’ and then stifling it on campus prevents students from hearing different viewpoints. Public universities should be encouraging robust and diverse debate, not downsizing and censoring events that help accomplish this primary purpose of education.”
It’s crucial that on our college campuses, every viewpoint gets a chance to compete in the marketplace of ideas. Otherwise, students won’t be encouraged to grapple with differing ideas and worldviews and learn how to best defend their own.
If we really want to make progress as a nation, we can’t stifle free inquiry. That isn’t progressive at all. Yet, free speech continues to be discouraged at public universities across the country—and it must stop.
Caroline Roberts serves as a Strategic Communications Writer at Alliance Defending Freedom