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Speech codes, 'civility' and the decline of academe

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published Nov. 17, 2015

Speech codes, 'civility' and the decline of academe

Now that the adults have cleared out of their prestigious presidencies and chancellorships at the University of Missouri, the Thought Police are coming out everywhere on campus in full array, complete with fancy titles, academic regalia and the usual meaningless catchphrases of the day.

For example, Mizzou is getting its first vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity, whatever those words now mean. This much is clear: They don't mean what they ostensibly say. Nor for anyone of a conservative bent who hasn't yet learned to keep his mouth shut and go along with exclusion, conformity and anything but a fair hearing.

The calendar may say it's 2015, but it might as well be 1984, and Big Brother is watching. It was called thought reform during Red China's great Cultural Revolution. Here it's being officially hailed as a "culture of civility" by the University of Missouri's board of trustees. Doublespeak is here again.

Meanwhile, you may add another name to the list of distinguished disinvitees to one American campus after another: A student group at Williams College, which charges its students $63,000 a year in tuition and fees for this kind of "education," had the temerity to inaugurate an Uncomfortable Learning Speaker Series -- but when word got out that a conservative writer, Suzanne Venker, was supposed to participate, a mob of "students" demanded that she be blacklisted. She promptly was, for the board folded like a blanket.

Venker now joins the long list of those luminaries whose ideas aren't welcome on still another American campus -- from Ayaan Hirsi Ali to George Will.

The news gets immeasurably, or rather measurably, worse. The William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale, which has the duty of keeping up with the erosion, if not complete collapse, of freedom of speech at American colleges and universities, reports that, by a margin of 51 to 36 percent, today's college students favor speech codes in order to determine what may be said or not said at our universities.

When the very places in a society that are supposed to be centers of free inquiry and robust debate become just robotic repeaters of the party line, what hope is there for once free society?

And yet somewhere, somehow, somebody -- some Winston Smith -- must still think for himself or even stand up against the mob and declare: The First Amendment is the only speech code this once free country needs.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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