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The alarming erosion of liberty at America's colleges and universities.

  • Jan 25, 2013
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+5
"If colleges followed through on their rhetoric that people with radically different points of view should get to know each other, they might create greater awareness that ideological, philosophical, or religious opponents can often find common ground. This could help foster critical thinking, debate, and discussion, while signaling to members of disfavored groups that they have a right to be there and to talk in class." --p 183

Greg Lukianoff has a theory. Greg is an attorney and president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). According to their website "The mission of FIRE is to defend and sustain individual rights at America's colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience -- the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity." In his riveting new book "Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate" Lukianoff posits that after nearly three decades the "political correctness" mentality that has effectively shut down speech on all too many of our nation's campuses has now spilled over into society at large and is "wreaking havoc on the way we talk among ourselves". What may make some folks stand up and pay attention to what this man has to say is the fact that Greg Lukiaoff is hardly a conservative Christian as you might well expect. Rather, he is a liberal Democrat atheist! The portrait that the author paints in this book is disturbing to say the least.

Greg Lukianoff organizes his case in "Unlearning Liberty" in a rather unique way. He walks his readers through the life of a typical college student from orientation through the end of the freshman year. As you might expect this incoming freshman is eager and somewhat naïve. She looks forward to the free and open exchange of ideas and to meeting new and different kinds of people. But chances are that in the not too distant future her expectations of what college life is supposed to be like are going to be shattered. That is because of the repressive effects of "political correctness" that have inculcated our nation's colleges and universities over the past 30 years. It might surprise you to learn that only 30.3% of college students agree that "It is safe to hold unpopular views on campus". Meanwhile, only 16.7% of faculty members would agree with that proposition. Oddly enough, censorship on campus is being enforced by the very "baby boomer" administrators who fought so hard for free speech back in the 1960's.

Throughout the pages of "Unlearning Liberty" Lukianoff cites case after onerous case of overzealous administrators who have attempted to limit free speech on campus. Those who wish to keep you quiet have all sorts of policies, sanctions and strategies at their disposal. I for one had never heard of a "free speech zone". Methinks that many of these people have way too much time on their hands. And it is not only the students who find themselves in the crosshairs. All too often faculty members are put under the microscope as well. For me, the most disturbing case in the book was that of Donald Hindley of Brandeis University who was found guilty in 2007 of explaining the meaning of the word "wetback" in his Latin American politics course. Mr. Hindley was not a young part-time instructor. Rather he had been a professor for nearly half a century. I found his story to be particularly chilling. It would appear that clear policies, fair hearings and due process are looked upon as inconveniences at far too many of these so-called institutions of higher learning. Some of these cases will shock you while others are so downright silly they will make you chuckle. But as you will discover for many of the individuals directly involved this is really no laughing matter. Lukianoff explains that many college administrators are just as likely to make an arbitrary ruling on a controversial comment or stance than to encourage the free flow of conversation on their campuses. Punishing students for questioning authority or speaking their mind about controversial subjects are among the starkest examples of how today's college students unlearn liberty. When you really stop to think about it if students cannot explore or debate these type of subjects in a civil manner on a college campus then where in the world can we?

To my way of thinking "Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate" is a stunning expose of the sad state of free speech and due process at all too many of America's public and private colleges and universities. There is an awful lot to chew on here. Regardless of your politics, if you are concerned with issues such as freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of conscience and due process then I would strongly urge you to pick up this book. Likewise, if you are a high school student or the parent of a high school student who is considering various colleges this would be a terrific way to get yourself up to speed on these monumentally important issues. One final quote from the book seems appropriate here: "Being offended is what happens when you have your deepest beliefs challenged, and if you make it through four years of college without having your deepest feelings challenged, you should ask for your money back." Touche! "Unlearning Liberty" proves to be a well written and very informative book. Very highly recommended!

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About the reviewer
Paul Tognetti ()
Ranked #2
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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For over a generation, shocking cases of censorship at America’s colleges and universities have taught students the wrong lessons about living in a free society. Drawing on a decade of experience battling for freedom of speech on campus, First Amendment lawyer Greg Lukianoff reveals how higher education fails to teach students to become critical thinkers: by stifling open debate, our campuses are supercharging ideological divisions, promoting groupthink, and encouraging an unscholarly certainty about complex issues.

Lukianoff walks readers through the life of a modern-day college student, from orientation to the end of freshman year. Through this lens, he describes startling violations of free speech rights: a student in Indiana punished for publicly reading a book, a student in Georgia expelled for a pro-environment collage he posted on Facebook, students at Yale banned from putting an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote on a T shirt, and students across the country corralled into tiny “free speech zones” when they wanted to express their views.

But Lukianoff goes further, demonstrating how this culture of censorship is bleeding into the larger society. As he explores public controversies involving Juan Williams, Rush Limbaugh, Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, Larry Summers—even Dave Barry and Jon Stewart—Lukianoff paints a stark picture of our ability as a nation to discuss important issues rationally. Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of ...

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