While the government can’t do a lot of things well, one primary task it must improve upon is securing inherent rights. Unfortunately, many public universities across this nation are finding it easier to restrict speech, while empowering mobs to shout down any dissent from woke-minded narratives.
One of the latest examples of the attack on speech happened at the flagship of the University of North Carolina System in Chapel Hill. The Carolina Review, a conservative and libertarian-minded publication, was hacked. All content was deleted on April 28, leaving only a derogatory remark and a “Nazi scum” accusation hurled at Bryson Piscitelli, the paper’s editor-in-chief.
Universities, of course, are supposed to be a safe haven for the free exchange of ideas. When that essential truth is compromised or collapses, alarm bells should be going off about the future of free-speech protections for our Republic. Free speech is “the only effectual guardian of every other right,” declared James Madison.
Piscitelli and others warn that UNC-Chapel Hill is not very welcoming for conservatives. In fact, in a story for Carolina Journal, he says “the culture on campus is poisoned.”
In a recent interview on Fox News, Piscitelli says that writers for the publication are “bullied out of the position” and told “they will not be socially acceptable.” Essentially, they could be canceled for thought crimes by the campus apparatchiks, overseers, or the mob. Sadly, he notes, too, that a significant portion of the student body can’t even tolerate allowing conservatives to speak on campus.
At this point, the vast majority of Americans have seen footage on campuses or read articles about speakers canceled or attacked, including assaults on fellow students because they merely share a different worldview or opinion. Here in North Carolina, former Lt. Gov. Dan Forest tried to make campus free speech a campaign talking point statewide before every other issue was swallowed up by COVID-19.
Former President Donald Trump highlighted the importance of speech on campus during his presidency, elevating the story of Hayden Williams, who was punched in the face while helping to advertise for Turning Point USA on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley in 2019. Trump is an advocate of public colleges and universities being compelled to support free speech in order to be eligible for any federal funding.
Piscitelli also supports government action and believes support from lawmakers is vital to help level the playing field for conservatives on campus. Undoubtedly, the government should do more to protect inherent rights. After all, this is why the American Founders implemented our government in the first place. Yet there is little doubt that it’s a discouraging sign when rights already guaranteed in the Bill of Rights must be further reinforced through the lawmaking process.
Still, state legislators have tremendous power and can and should do more to encourage a culture that promotes the free exchange of ideas and speech on all public universities across the state. Why are politicians in office if they can do little or nothing to promote inherent rights enshrined in our founding documents?
If public colleges and universities desire to go full woke in their celebration of illiberalism, while suppressing the hiring and speech of conservatives, taxpayers shouldn’t be harnessed to support those efforts. Private universities have more freedom to dictate the specific kind of community they desire for a reason — yet public universities should reflect a diversity of thought expressed throughout the state. Clearly, the answer to disagreement is not censorship. Unfortunately, free speech is not just something universities and their students have to relearn, but many Americans, too.
Ray Nothstine is Carolina Journal opinion editor.