An excerpt from the opinion article written by Tyson Lanhofer titled “Three ways colleges are suppressing speech — and how students can fight back” Tyson Langhofer is the senior counsel and director of the Center for Academic Freedom with Alliance Defending Freedom ( @ADFLegal ).
While many American universities proclaim their commitment to free speech, their actions often tell a different story. Tyson Lanhofer the director of the Center for Academic Freedom at Alliance Defending Freedom, observed a pattern where university administrators silence students expressing views that challenge the evolving academic consensus.
Firstly, university leaders often subtly isolate certain student groups, especially conservative ones, signaling to the larger student body that they ought to take corrective actions. Unfortunately, these actions sometimes escalate to aggressive confrontations.
Secondly, when complaints arise, administrators frequently take the side of the aggrieved party without conducting a thorough inquiry. This rush to judgment often denies the accused students adequate time to present their side.
Lastly, instead of ensuring safety and upholding free speech during potentially contentious events, administrators sometimes neglect to enforce necessary regulations, thereby discouraging future events that foster open dialogue and debate.
Earlier in the year, the University of Pittsburgh’s chapters of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the College Republicans planned to organize a debate. The discussion, featuring Michael Knowles and Brad Polumbo, was titled “Should Transgenderism be Regulated by Law?” The format was set to include a structured debate, a 30-minute Q&A segment, and a 40-minute meet-and-greet session.
Prior to the event, the university released a statement labeling the debate as potentially “harmful” to many within the university community. Provost Ann Cudd described Knowles’s opinions as “distasteful” and “laden with hostility,” and informed students of “multiple events scheduled for Tuesday, April 18, as a counter to Knowles’s visit.” These counter-events, seemingly encouraged by university figures, resulted in a disruptive crowd. Despite the university’s denial, the aftermath saw the cancellation of a security fee, of nearly $19,000, originally imposed on the organizing groups.
At times, students weaponize institutional protocols against their peers, as exemplified by Maggie DeJong’s experience at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. After sharing her Christian perspectives on several cultural subjects online, three of her peers reported her to the university. Consequently, in February 2022, the administration issued no-contact orders against her, labeling her actions as “harassment” and “discrimination.” She remained in the dark about the specific nature of these allegations for a fortnight.
Those officials recently participated in First Amendment training as part of a settlement agreement after DeJong sued the school.
A comparable incident unfolded at the University of Idaho. Three Christian law students and their faculty advisor were handed no-contact orders for articulating their Christian Legal Society chapter’s biblical stance on marriage. Fortunately, this case too culminated in a positive resolution for our clients following an initial court verdict that favored us.
While certain universities actively engage in speech controversies, others exhibit a passive approach that indirectly suppresses free expression. In March, when the Students for Life of America chapter at Virginia Commonwealth University hosted the national organization’s president, Kristan Hawkins, an aggressive crowd gathered. This group not only blocked entrances and hurled derogatory remarks at attendees but escalated to physical aggression, damaging AV equipment and harming pro-life students. The situation intensified to the extent that emergency medical teams were called to address the injured students.
ADF sent a letter to VCU, saying it failed in its constitutional duty to provide security in an effort to protect free speech. In response, Hawkins was invited back, and this time, security was called in and halted the mob efforts before any more violence could be done.
Universities ought to champion free speech and nurture students into thoughtful, mature adults. Instead, many officials disproportionately favor certain perspectives, pit students against one another, and then distance themselves from the fallout when situations escalate. It’s crucial for students to recognize their constitutional rights and know how to defend them, especially when those meant to guide them stifle their voices.
Students must be exposed to a diverse range of ideas, beginning with universities that prioritize, not hinder, open discourse. Supporting the First Freedoms Foundation financially ensures that these ideals are upheld and amplified, safeguarding the future of genuine academic inquiry and freedom.