Even though concern for academic freedom may seem abstract and even trivial, it is utterly practical. It determines whether we live in a conformist society or a free one. While it’s tempting for conservatives to leave higher and lower education to progressive ideologues, this condemns so many young people to mediocrity and lifelong servility.
For the second straight year, DePauw University in Indiana ranked last in the Free Speech College Rankings. Among admittedly stiff competition, DePauw’s students distinguished themselves in their belief that “disagreeable speech” should be suppressed. They also had the largest portion of students feeling unable to express their views on a subject.
Along with this lack of free speech is the obvious lack of ideological diversity. Students and professors agree on most points, and thus see little point in an open forum. As one student puts it, “I have rarely felt [any fear of expressing my opinion]…because many of my professors and students surrounding me share my political views.”
It has become common knowledge that most campuses exhibit the same antipathy towards intellectual freedom and uninhibited public discourse. Their faculties are ideologically uniform, their students vigorously protest any heterodox thinkers, and their partisan professors proudly teach their students what to think rather than how to think.
Young Progressives Conform, Act Out
There are two main takeaways from this situation. The first and more immediate one is the hypocrisy among young progressives who fancy themselves reactionaries and countercultural for combatting supposed “hate speech” and “social injustice.” In reality, they are simply parroting the elite’s narratives and acting out against the less powerful (usually conservatives and Christians). There is no truly courageous, independent thought among any of them. Colleges have gone to great lengths to help them feel safe and supported while doing the opposite with conservatives.
The larger and more lasting takeaway is that American culture is becoming a conformist culture. After all, these students will graduate and eventually assume positions of influence and authority. Naturally, many will use whatever power they have to recreate the norms and expectations they experienced at college.
This is what largely happened in the past decade where all spaces, both physical and virtual, are subject to suppression of speech and thought. Where can one go to express an unapproved and unpopular argument? Not at work or school, or even online. This leaves church and home, but the spirit of ideological conformity has largely invaded these spaces as well.