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Stopping the Campusfication of American Life

A Commentary By Michael Barone

Many people, years after they graduate from high school and college, have nightmares about taking exams for a course for which they have done none of the reading and are totally unprepared. They wake up full of anxiety and relax only when they realize they left school years ago.

But increasingly, it seems like none of us ever get out of school, as the rules and restrictions that have proliferated on college and university campuses over the last two or three decades ooze out and spread to the wider society. We find ourselves dealing, exams aside, with the campusfication of American life.

For those of us whose experience goes back far enough, this once seemed quite desirable. Campuses in the 1950s and 1960s were the most open and tolerant parts of American society. Just about any ideas could be advanced and defended. Racial and ethnic discrimination was frowned upon and dismantled. Unequal treatment of women largely disappeared in the 1970s.

But that was then, and this is now. Coat-and-tie dress codes are long gone, but campuses have become the least free and the most restrictive zones of American life -- and the most monopartisan. Conservatives, a minority in faculties half a century ago, are largely nonexistent in faculties now, and liberals fond of tolerance have been replaced by "progressives" determined to propagate their ideas and suppress others.

A majority of colleges and universities, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, has enacted speech codes, restrictions that seem to metastasize in the night. The idea has been implanted that speech that is found offensive by anyone, especially anyone who claims victim-group status, amounts to violence -- an idea contradicted by both logic and experience. Offenders are punished by an ever-metastasizing corps of administrators, who now nationally outnumber college and university teachers.

I used to imagine that the effects of restrictive campuses would wear off when graduates encountered the real world. Instead, the post-campus world has come to embrace the idea suppression of the campuses. FIRE's success in overturning campus speech codes has been outmatched by the mudslide of restrictions promoted by corporate HR departments, as their Nurse Ratcheds eagerly pursue violators, and even more by the giant media companies through which so much of the communication of ideas passes. Even though Congress shielded Google, Facebook and Twitter from legal consequences for the ideas they transmit, they are actively in the business of idea suppression.

Anyone who regularly visits blogs like instapundit.com -- I'm not talking about alt-right stuff here -- often encounters news that some conservative writer has been blocked, some conservative blog's content has been rendered inaccessible, some conservative website has been downgraded in search ratings.

Sometimes this may happen by mistake, as social media firm executives claim. But it's obvious that very often it is the result of actions and decisions by recent graduates of left-dominated campuses determined to prevent the communication of ideas they consider politically incorrect. Why should free speech be valued by these youngsters? It wasn't at school.

The social media firms may reply that they need smart people and thus hire high-test-score people from selective colleges and universities. But their employees are not the only smart people in America, and there is no law that requires all social media firms to have all their facilities in the San Francisco Bay area, the most monopartisan metro area in the United States.

The fact is that Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Larry Page and whoever is running Twitter these days have allowed their firms to become the unelected censors of America and much of the world. The increasing criticism and hostility they've encountered should not surprise them given we live in a nation where most people still believe in free speech, even if many who run campuses don't.

Speech bans are not the only bad idea that has spread from campuses to poison the larger society. College and university admissions departments' surreptitious use of racial quotas and preferences has been matched by corporate HR departments. The campus kangaroo courts encouraged by the Obama Education Department's "guidance" have their equivalents in post-campus life.

Currently, Harvard's alleged anti-Asian quotas are being challenged in court. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has ditched the Obama "guidance" and, after thorough investigation, advanced regulations to protect the interests of both accusers and those accused.

Those are encouraging signs that the host society can fight back against the infections festering in its campus wing. It needs to fight back against the campusfication suppression of free speech as well.

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.


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