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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Is free speech only for nice speech?

The University of California spent $600,000 on security to enable a conservative commentator, Ben Shapiro, to speak on campus.

Thirty-nine percent of college students believe the First Amendment doesn’t protect hate speech and another 16 percent aren’t sure, reports researcher John Villasenor, who conducted a nationwide survey.

Does the First Amendment protect “hate speech”?Political AffiliationType of CollegeGenderAllDemRepIndPublicPrivateFemaleMaleYes3939444038433151No4441394444444938Don’t know1615171717132111

Fifty-one percent of students — 62 percent of Democrats, 39 percent of Republicans — said it was OK for a student group to drown out a speaker “by loudly and repeatedly shouting,” if “the speaker is known for making offensive and hurtful statements.”

Nineteen percent of students — 30 percent of males, 10 percent of females — said it was acceptable to “use violence to prevent the speaker from speaking.”

I was astounded that students believe  — 62 to 38 percent — that the First Amendment requires that campus events present counterpoints to offensive views.

What do they teach in civics classes these days?

Students also were asked to choose between two types of learning environments:

Option 1: create a positive learning environment for all students by prohibiting certain speech or expression of viewpoints that are offensive or biased against certain groups of peopleOption 2: create an open learning environment where students are exposed to all types of speech and viewpoints, even if it means allowing speech that is offensive or biased against certain groups of people?

Most students — especially Democrats — wanted to be sheltered from offensive views, notes Villasenor.

In a 1994 op-ed column, I wrote that the “hostile environment” concept is “creating a hostile environment for free speech, teaching and learning.”

Universities were once supposed to be places of inquiry and debate, where scholars and students challenged old prejudices and explored new ideas. They were supposed to be places where people expanded their understanding of the world, not merely of themselves. “The Princess and the Pea” was a cautionary tale; she was not a role model. Students now believe they are entitled not only to a heavily subsidized college education (minimum grade: B), but to a guaranteed comfort level. Indeed, causing discomfort to a college student, except on the grounds of white male heterosexuality, is grounds for a lawsuit. (As is breathing.) . . . According to the theory, a “hostile environment” – as personally defined by each and every sensitive soul – prevents learning. But surely those who can learn only when they’re smug and snug, aren’t capable of learning. Life is a hostile environment, after all. But educational.

I think it holds up well.

Update: Northwestern Professor Laura Kipnis survived a Title IX harassment investigation for writing about campus sex politics, then wrote a book about the ordeal. She was investigated again, under Title IX, for the book, titled Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranois Comes to Campus, reports Jeannie Suk Gersen in The New Yorker. A colleague also was hit with a Title IX complaint for supporting Kipnis.

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