Thursday, December 11, 2014

Some Thoughts on Unlearning Liberty by Greg Lukianoff


Greg Lukianoff is a self-proclaimed liberal Democrat. He is also an attorney for FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). FIRE is a not-for-profit organization that supports individuals in legal battles against overbearing and unconstitutional university speech codes. (Check out the group here.) He has also written the best book exposing the war against free speech taking place on university campuses across the US.

From university professors summarily dismissed, to student expulsion, to a rape accusation culture, to enforced "sensitivity" training, Lukianoff covers case after case of free speech violations orchestrated by the very system that should best embrace freedom of speech - the university.

What first struck me about the book was Lukianoff's ability to transcend his liberal roots to embrace one of the basic principles of the founding of the US - free speech. Unlike many liberals, he understands that speech must be protected for everyone, not just for the few who happen to be in power. His book cuts right to the heart of the problem with liberal university speech codes that limit and stifle, rather than encourage discourse and measured argument on campus.

Having come under fire myself for daring to have an opinion that some of my students found offensive (namely that same sex marriage harms the institution of marriage), I experienced the same problems that many conservatives have suffered within the university system. Even after all these years, I still write under the name "Euripides" on one hand, because I've created something of a "Euripides brand," but also so that I incur less risk to me and my family for actively expressing views that are unpopular within the liberalized school system.

Lukianoff admits that a lot of the problems he outlines in his book are "conservative" problems, since so many of the speech codes and student standards reflect progressive ideology. The problem, as he sees it, is that such codes create an openly hostile environment for all students. When your college education is on the line, very few students will "buck the system" or stand up to unconstitutional, illegal, and immoral pressure from school administration and faculty.

Lukianoff's book opened my eyes to the main cause of outlandish and overreaching "speech codes" at universities - the explosion of administration on nearly every campus in the country. At the time the book was written, administration outnumbered faculty across the nation. A lot of the new administration has the "responsibility" to implement prevalent ideals of the leftist utopian society, free from any conflict whatsoever (as long as everyone agrees with the administration's view).

If you've not picked up Lukianoff's book, I recommend it as a lucid argument against the trend of modern universities. It will open your eyes to the deep, pervasive problems that you, or your children will face when confronted with trying to gain an education at one of these institutions for "higher" learning.

The book is depressing in many ways, not the least of which is its confirmation that universities, by and large, suppress critical thinking instead of encouraging it. Whenever conservatives face off against liberals, we must acknowledge that much of today's fuzzy thinking and polarized conversations stem from a failing university system that has told its students what to think, instead of how to think.

Lukianoff's book is a good starting place to understand that free speech is at the core of rational thought and critical thinking. It is imperative that today's students understand Lukianoff's thesis in order to become better educated, rather than becoming a mindless drone of some university administrator's dream of utopia.