Report: free speech on college campuses is not facing a crisis

As roughly 100 protesters descended on the University of South Carolina Alumni Center last Friday, no police nor university officials stood in their way. When students read a letter at presidential forums signed by faculty and student organizations calling for more gender diversity, nobody cut them off.

When the founder of Turning Point USA, a group founded to promote conservative ideals on college campuses, spoke on USC’s campus in March, the event was well-attended and supported by conservative students, according to USC’s student newspaper, The Daily Gamecock.

The day after, a columnist for The Daily Gamecock denounced Turning Point but didn’t contest the group’s right to speak on campus. A separate columnist, writing the same day, spoke out against censorship.

Despite assertions that free speech is “under siege” — words President Donald Trump used to back up an executive order that ties federal funding to free speech protections — a recently released report finds that free speech on college campuses is not in a state of crisis.

“At PEN America, we do not believe that campuses are experiencing a unique crisis separate from the tensions and fissures pulling apart American society at large,” the report’s authors wrote. “However, we do see a looming danger that our bedrock faith in free speech as an enduring foundation of American society could give way to a belief that curtailing harmful expression will enable our diverse population to live together peaceably.”

The report was authored by PEN America, a free-speech organization founded in 1922 in New York, according to the PEN America website. PEN America conducted the report by examining more than 100 cases of free speech controversies in the last several years, according to the organization’s website.

The report contradicts a December 2018 report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education that South Carolina colleges are restricting freedom of speech, according to a previous article from The State.

The PEN America report mentioned an anti-semitism proviso, a one-year law, that was successfully attached to the S.C. state budget last year. That proviso required colleges to account for the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-semitism when considering whether a certain act was hateful, according to a previous article from The State.

Proponents championed that act, saying it was a necessary tool to combat rising incidents of anti-semitism, while free-speech advocates worried it could hinder open discussion on topics such as the Israel/Palestine.