Opinion | Is Freedom of Thought Curbed on Campus? – The New York Times


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Part 2 of a series about free speech: Responses to a college student’s essay about what she described as self-censorship at colleges. In Part 1, readers responded to a March 20 editorial.
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To the Editor:
Re “Self-Censorship Is Stifling Campuses,” by Emma Camp (Opinion guest essay, March 9):
I applaud Ms. Camp’s essay about the state of intellectual freedom (or the lack thereof) on college campuses in this country.
She accurately and perceptively criticizes the growing trend in academia to promote and enforce an inflexible social ideology that intimidates any student or professor who does not embrace it.
Colleges and universities, instead of being a fertile environment to question, learn and grow, are now teaching our children to be intolerant and judgmental, and to humiliate any who might disagree with the “official” perspective. And if you happen to be a professor who challenges this dogma, you face disgrace or even termination.
It is a sad state of affairs when our institutions of “higher learning” are embracing such a biased and disparaging environment that their students feel the need to censor their own thoughts and expressions on campus.
Zealotry serves no one well, regardless of where one sits on the political spectrum.
John M. Singer
Portsmouth, N.H.
To the Editor:
I am exceedingly grateful to Emma Camp for expressing an unpopular opinion that must necessarily be harbored (cautiously, on the sly) by countless undergraduate and graduate students. The pressure to bow before majority opinion has indeed become increasingly burdensome.
We might well fear for the state of unbounded, undiluted intellectualism in America. Not only self-censorship, but also censorship from without — coercion, intimidation and silencing — threatens to transform our once eclectic nation into a tepid, homogeneous whole.
I implore my fellow students to comport themselves boldly and courageously in the face of this ever more fearful prospect. Do not permit your original, piquant ideas and opinions to be rejected out of hand; when enough iconoclasts stand bravely together, tyranny of the majority loses power. One grows tired of hearing the same hyperbolized viewpoints iterated and reiterated ad nauseam.
Collectively, let us attempt to provide balance and restore our fellow citizens to reason and open-mindedness.
Donna Sanders
New York
The writer is a junior at Columbia University.
To the Editor:
I welcome Emma Camp’s plea for free speech, but it is important to remember that pressures to censor come from the political right as well as from the left.
With Florida’s lawmakers passing a bill that forbids teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade, teachers and even young children will find they must suppress expression of any comments that offend conservative orthodoxy.
This leads to the stifling of alternative viewpoints, producing what public opinion scholars call a spiral of silence, a phenomenon in which people, fearing isolation or ostracism, decline to offer unpopular but legitimate views, spanning conservative political perspectives in University of Virginia classrooms to gender diversity in Florida elementary schools.
The ensuing silence and self-censorship offend the Enlightenment-based affirmation of free speech and tolerance that animated our greatest social philosophers.
As John Stuart Mill famously wrote, discussing problems bearing on opinion self-censorship, “If the opinion is right, [people] are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
Richard M. Perloff
Cleveland
The writer, a professor of communication and political science at Cleveland State University, is author of “The Dynamics of Political Communication.”
To the Editor:
Emma Camp describes experiencing a shift in the demeanor of other students when she raised issues that were disliked. I would hope that in such a situation the professor would say something like: “I notice some discomfort with Ms. Camp’s position. Will one of you please respond. Come on. Speak up!”
Then the professor should alternate between sides, commenting as appropriate to bring out the lessons to be learned. I would hope for a parallel reaction from the president and deans with the faculty in times of dissent.
The student newspaper could contribute by publishing both sides: pro on one side of the page and con on the other side. It is the responsibility of the faculty to keep the college safe for debate by encouraging and monitoring the process to keep discussions flowing and nondestructive.
Beth Bartholomew
Seattle
To the Editor:
To encourage free speech on campus, colleges should expand their existing prohibitions on harassment based on race, sex, etc. to prohibit all harassment, including that based on politics and ideology.
Too many people on and off campus seem to think they can make the world a better place by harassing people who disagree with them.
James G. Russell
Midlothian, Va.
To the Editor:
As a lifelong teacher of argumentation and debating, I find myself in agreement with the frustration Emma Camp feels but disagree with the causes. Debate does not come naturally; it is something we have to practice and learn.
Human beings argue as a form of communication, but this is highly personal in its reach. Debate is for people we don’t know. We can appreciate a beautiful image with others, but to paint it and hang it before a crowd is a different matter.
Universities across the United States have failed in their obligation to teach debating, which is as important as STEM in creating the thoughtful, intelligent people who will soon lead the world. Debate should be a general education requirement, as Ms. Camp aptly proves.
Stephen M. Llano
Queens
The writer is an associate professor of rhetoric in the communication studies department at St. John’s University.
To the Editor:
Emma Camp provides a clear description of one consequence of the recent “culture wars” and the passage of anti-woke legislation in multiple states, including mine.
What is also evident is that some professors lack the skill to conduct conversations that give all students space to express their views. Such classroom interaction is how we help students become analytical thinkers, develop appreciation for diverse perspectives and understand the complexity of so many issues.
Instead of letting students “pile on” one student and triggering self-censorship, educators at all levels need to give students opportunities to carefully consider alternative ideas and possible explanations for them. This is how we learn, how we mature and become effective decision makers.
Jill Lewis-Spector
Sarasota, Fla.
The writer is emerita professor of literacy education at New Jersey City University and past president of the International Literacy Association.
To the Editor:
I am a retired college professor and a Christian social conservative who values free speech and civil discourse. Emma Camp’s article speaks to both my head and my heart as she presents a defense of free speech on college campuses.
Although Ms. Camp and I probably disagree politically, I feel that she and I could discuss controversial issues, and each learn from our exchanges. Her discussion about self-censorship by college students and faculty resonates with me; college administrators must ensure that no one on campus must adhere to any particular ideology for fear of retribution.
John C. Gardner
Onalaska, Wis.
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