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Richard K. Vedder

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Muzzling Free Expression on Campus Causes Self-Censorship


Societies advance through the creation, expression, and evaluation of alternative ideas. Therefore, for almost a millennium, we have had universities where ideas and discoveries are born and different perspectives are debated in “marketplaces of ideas” or “learning communities.” Yet there has been a decline in rational, reasonable discourse on issues of the day on modern campuses. This has been demonstrated by numerous suppressions of speakers, including one recently—and most shockingly—at the Stanford Law School, where a federal judge, Stuart Kyle Duncan, was prevented from speaking by a student protest, aided and abetted by the law school’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) dean.

The university’s own administration was helping to lead the suppression of speech and ideas. It is incidents like this one that have made members of university communities afraid to express themselves, fearing potential negative outcomes (e.g., insults, attacks on character, possible physical attack, or efforts to dismiss) from individuals opposed to their viewpoints. Hence, expressed viewpoint diversity is on a notable decline. We are moving at least partway in the direction of universities in 20th-century totalitarian societies like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. And this movement has spread to the broader society.

Individuals are increasingly engaging in self-censorship—the consequences of using an inappropriate word become too costly, so we muzzle our expression. One recent example came courtesy of Whoopi Goldberg, who is hardly a paragon of reactionary anti-woke thinking. She recently was pressured into apologizing for suggesting that some people had been “gypped”—a synonym for “cheated” or “ripped off.” Goldberg has profusely apologized for using a word that some apparently find offensive. Why? It turns out that the word may be thought to imply that Roma people (commonly referred to as “gypsies”) are untrustworthy.
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Should College Application Be Required for a High School Diploma?


The Wall Street Journal last week reported legislators in a growing number of states are trying to pass new laws requiring high school seniors to complete applications for college financial aid (mainly the federal FAFSA—Free Application for Student Aid—but also sometimes state forms) before receiving a high school diploma. It is already law in Louisiana. Nebraska legislation was vetoed by Governor Pete Ricketts.

The argument for such legislation is: a college degree will be needed for most jobs created in coming years, and college graduates are more productive citizens, so increasing higher education participation should stimulate economic growth. Moreover, underrepresented groups in college attendance, such as minorities and lower income citizens, often fail to apply for available financial aid to attend college, and thus do not even try to go to college. This legislation is a way of nudging high school seniors to become aware of the possibility of getting college financial aid. In Louisiana, completion of the FAFSA form rose after the Louisiana law was passed.

Yet there are strong compelling arguments against such legislation. First, I think it is dishonest, even immoral, to withdraw an earned mark of academic accomplishment, a high school diploma, from a student because he or she refuses to do something having absolutely nothing to do with high school academic performance. Consider two students of similar financial circumstance graduating from the same high school, one in the top one-fourth of the graduating class but who plans to go to work in the family business (farm, hardware store, roofing company, restaurant, etc.) after graduation, and thus does not want to go to college and fill out the FAFSA application.
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