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    Monday, March 04, 2024

    Florida sets up a witch hunt for liberal professors

    College isn’t what it used to be, that’s for sure. Although long-ignored voices of people of color are finally more likely to be heard, college is overall less welcoming to widely differing opinions and raucous but respectful debate from various points along the political and social spectrum.

    In recent years — especially during the Trump administration — sizable numbers of students began expressing an inability to cope with opinions they found objectionable. Feeling discomfited evolved into feeling threatened, and some student groups tried to stop speeches by provocative voices with which they disagree.

    A 2021 survey of 37,000 college students found that 80% said they self-censor at least some of the time, and 21% often. The numbers, if accurate, indicate a troubling trend: conservative students were the most likely to report holding their comments, and Black students also frequently self-censored.

    For the most part, though, this doesn’t seem to be a problem promulgated by wild-eyed progressive professors making students feel stupid or disrespected for having a different point of view. A 2020 poll by UCLA found that at least 80% of students from every part of the political spectrum felt their colleges encouraged them to share their ideas openly. They were much less satisfied with the campus “atmosphere for the expression of diverse beliefs.”

    In other words, this is more a social problem among peers than an indoctrination attempt by schools, which have generally been defending freedom of speech and diversity of opinion.

    Far from making people with dissenting views feel comfortable on campus, new Florida law pushed by Gov. Ron Desantis threatens to turn universities into spy-and-sue zones based on speech. It would require annual surveys of students to check on “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity.”

    Schools shouldn’t need a set percentage of conservative students or any other particular political group. What schools need are procedures for informing students about the right to free speech and the necessity of tolerating varied viewpoints while arguing the issues in civil ways.

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