No. No, that’s not true. Here’s why:
To begin with, the most notable and prominent group making this claim is a Conservative student organization called the “Young Americans Foundation,” or “YAF”. YAF has membership spread across three hundred college campuses nationwide. It has an annual operating budget of $20 million dollars and exists as a 503(c), which means it does not pay taxes. Universities have lobbied to shut this group down approximately…NEVER.
It’s never been told it needs to disband by any university. And it is, historically, known as the most Conservative student organization. As far as its size, financial backing, and influence, no other “Leftist” college student group even comes close.
Universities have never shut down the Young Americans Foundation or even tried. Rather, every university that YAF attends provides them with staff, money, advertising, resources and spaces to hold their events. For the most part, all of this is free-of-charge and, again, tax free.
Additionally, YAF is permitted by the university to host scores of events and even invite dozens of outside guest speakers to speak on campus. This has happened every single year since the group’s founding in 1969.
So, the notion that America’s universities are somehow overrun by Leftists attempting to drive Conservatives into the ocean is simply untrue.
What the YAF and Conservative pundits are referring to is the fact that there are specific cases in which a number of outside guest speakers, invited by YAF, were not permitted by a handful of universities to speak on campus, occurring over a period of several years.
These are important distinctions.
If, out of literally dozens of outside speakers, one or two are not permitted to speak, it belies the notion that Conservatism, itself, is under attack. This is particularly true when the span of time granted to accumulate more than a single rejection consists of years.
But that is not the primary reason the YAF and Conservative politicians/pundits are wrong.
No. The reason the YAF is wrong is because they signed a contract agreeing that the university holds the right to vet or reject any outside speaker.
That’s right. The YAF agreed beforehand that universities have final say as to who gets to visit the campus from the outside, as a non-student, and use campus facilities to speak. (You’ll notice that YAF never, ever mentions this whenever they claim that “Universities are attacking our Free Speech!”)
And now, after signing that agreement, they’re complaining about having to honor what they agreed to.
Talk about acting like “special snowflakes”!
The name of that contract is called a “Code of Conduct” and every university, whether public or private, has one.
The “Code of Conduct” is usually given to potential students during the application process. It outlines all of the expectations and rules to be followed by both the student and the university. If the student doesn’t like the “Code of Conduct,” then that student does not need to apply to that university.
For example, the Code, and supporting materials, outlines things like:
Students do not have final say as to who teaches at the school.
Students do not have final say as to the curriculum at the school.
Students do not have final say as to the school’s budget.
And, likewise, students do not have final say as to what guests they can bring onto campus, nor do they have final say as to what guests can use campus facilities to give a speech.
The legal precedent for providing this contract to students is pretty straightforward: any institution, whether public or private, must allow for forms of Free Speech. But: the right to Free Speech is understood to mean that a citizen cannot necessarily speak any time they want, anywhere they want, and in any manner they want.
That’s the reason hardcore pornography isn’t shown on public access television. Is it public? Yes. Do we support Free Speech? Yes. Does the person wanting to play the pornography get final say as to what goes on Public Access Television? No. Because there are other rights that will be infringed upon if the right to Free Speech is unlimited and the people using Public Access Television have signed a contract stating that they understand that.
Remember: our rights are inalienable. But they are not unlimited.
That concept bears repeating given that people are having a very hard time lately getting it into their heads: our rights are inalienable. But they are not unlimited.
Our nation’s Founders went out of their way to explain that. In fact, they even based the U.S. Constitution on the writings of John Locke. John Locke, for those who might not remember, championed the idea of “a Marginal Surrender of Liberty”.
By expecting universities to uphold their end of the student/university contract but chucking that contract out the window whenever they feel like it, YAF creates a double standard. Thus, rather than being oppressed by universities, this student group, and the wealthy, powerful Conservatives who support them, are actually the oppressors.
Their’s is a hypocritical stance, with a special set of rules for YAF and a different set of rules for everyone else.
You might be asking: “But, wait! Doesn’t a University’s “Code of Conduct” also have a limit?”
Absolutely. For example, when vetting or rejecting an outside speaker, the university cannot reject the speaker on the basis of race, creed, gender or ethnicity. Thus, even if a student signs a “Code of Conduct,” that contract becomes null and void automatically if the university violates a State or Federal Law relative to prejudice.
Incidentally, this is the exact reason why YAF sued The University of California, Berkeley. YAF claimed they were being treated with just as much oppression, and prejudice, as any Black speaker in the 1950s.
The problem, of course, is that not only did they not win the case (agreeing with Berkley to settle out of court, proving it a nuisance lawsuit) but they also have none of the historical context of oppression and violence that Black Americans encountered. As I mentioned above, YAF and scores of other Conservative groups have existed on college campuses across the country for decades, and have never had to fight for the right to a higher education.
Once matriculated, regardless of their ideology, YAF students were admitted to the school based on their grades, no problem. That is the opposite of being oppressed!
You might also be asking: “Well, why were these guest speakers rejected? Were they rejected because of some crazy Liberal bias?” Ironically, while YAF claimed their organization was being “oppressed”, one speaker was rejected for “not reflecting university values”, as the school board cited the following quote from that guest speaker, Dinesh D’Souza: “So Rosa Parks wouldn’t sit on the back of the bus—that’s all she did. So what’s the big fuss?”
That’s right. While claiming they were fighting against oppression, they wanted to invite a guest speaker who mocked a Civil Rights icon for fighting against oppression.
Sadly, this was just one quote, culled from a library of quotes from this speaker that – while not considered obscene by law – was in such bad taste, with so little redeeming social value, that it was perfectly reasonable for any institution to say “Thanks, but no thanks.”
In legal terms, the word “reasonable” is synonymous with “justifiable”. It is also the reason why concepts such as “redeeming social value” form the basis for court decisions in which an institution can draw up contracts allowing them the option to deny an outside speaker at all. Again, on Public Access Television, they can deny someone from playing pornography and have the right, under the Constitution, to draw up a contract saying so. Why? Because it has no “redeeming social value”.
The other major claim is that universities have an overwhelming, oppressive Liberal bias. Like the claim Conservative students are being “oppressed”, this claim is just as ridiculous and unfounded.
The curricula of nearly every major university in the United States offers coursework on Conservative figures/ideas such as:
Adam Smith and Capitalism
Economic and Military Policies of Dwight D. Eisenhower
Maximizing Profits in Business
The American Revolution
The Cold War
The History of Joseph Stalin (including mass incarcerations and genocide)
The History of the State of Israel
And scores of others.
So, as you can see, the claim that Universities are “Attacking Free Speech” by vetting or rejecting a handful of guest speakers is absolutely ludicrous, and their anti-oppression claim is all the more unseemly given that some of their speakers are being rejected precisely because they have explicitly endorsed intolerance and oppression.
Concerning this particular subject, Conservatives really do need to shut up and stop whining.