The Washington Examiner’s Red Alert Politics led a powerhouse discussion on Friday morning to unpack free speech issues on college campuses including the ever-growing authoritarianism coming from left-wing students, faculty, and administration officials and how best to combat it.
Hosted by Red Alert Politics’ editor Lauren Cooley, the first panel included iconic radio host and creator of PragerU, Dennis Prager; Chandler Thornton, the National Chairman of the College Republican National Committee; and Roger Ream, the President of The Fund for American Studies.
Cooley first asked the panel, "How did we get to this crisis of free speech on the college campus? Was it always this bad or has it got progressively worse?"
Prager referenced his time in college during the 1960's counter-revolution and stated that leftists have always attempted to stifle freedom.
“The left has never been an advocate for liberty except for sexual liberty, that’s it,” Prager said while including that there’s an important difference between liberals and leftists, most notably their views on the issues of free speech and race.
While Thornton agreed with Prager’s general concept that the left has always hated free speech, he added that things have gotten progressively worse since the creation of safe spaces, trigger warnings, and free speech zones.
These three things have created a cultural change, especially among millennials, in which students believe they should be protected from having their feelings hurt. Ream stated that this evolution has greatly affected the way college administrations have operated and that to be mentally challenged by ideas should be an essential part of education.
Ream also stated that in order to silence a conservative group or speaker, the left has created an environment of intimidation by students and activists who threaten violence if a right-wing speaker comes to campus. College administration will charge tens-of-thousands of dollars for extra security and if the right-wing speaker cannot provide the money, the event is canceled.
Prager said that the transformation of education makes him question whether anyone outside a specialty field like medicine or science should be sending their children to college. Students go to college and are brainwashed to hate Western Civilization, capitalism, and their parents’ values.
A key concern for the radio host was that most Americans knew nothing of safe spaces, trigger warnings, and the loss of free speech taking place on college campuses. Prager’s hoping the release of his new documentary that he worked on with comedian Adam Carolla, "No Safe Spaces," will raise awareness to a wider audience.
The second panel included Cooley and Prager, as well as Shelby Emmett of the American Legislative Council Exchange and Marcus Fontenos of Turning Point USA.
Fontenos, the Student Body President at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said that school administrations practice something known as “selective enforcement” where conservative students live under one set of rules but progressive students receive a series of special privileges.
“The students who weren’t excited about our President being elected were marching around campus protesting it, well plot twist, that’s against the speech policy that was previously in place,” Fontenos said. “Yet when the conservatives on campus had a free speech wall, that was shut down in a heartbeat. So I think selective enforcement is a real issue.”
Emmett laid down legislative solutions that could help regain students’ ability to exercise their free speech on college campuses.
“We can’t react to every little thing,” Emmet said. She then discussed how actions by college students are blown out of proportion simply because everyone is recording everything with their cell phones. “The second thing we have to do is that students are working with each other and talking to their lawmakers.”
“I think it’s really sad when you see one of these ‘experts’ like me being asked to testify but you’ll talk to hundreds of students and they don’t even understand these bills are happening,” she continued. “And right now there’s a lot of policies that are out there on legislation and I think that the most damaging are two aspects. One, I think many of these policies are taking a big government approach in the name of limited government and protecting speech. I don’t necessarily believe that the answer is more government and a government solution… an example is something we’ve seen at our job is mandating committees on free expression ... that is handpicked by government officials without mandating at least student representation.”
Emmett also said she’s worried about this new approach where the government mandates that schools punish behavior they dislike.
She said that ALEC has been working with multiple groups to model a policy approach that is based on limited government focusing on education - not just on students but also on administrations, professors, and even police officers who stop students from doing things like passing out the Constitution.
“This is a cultural problem, not so much a party problem,” Emmett said.
WATCH BELOW: Lauren Cooley and Ron Meyer discuss important takeaways from the event:
Ryan Girdusky (@RyanGirdusky) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner. He is a writer based in New York.