Opinion

Get in the fight to protect free expression in higher ed

Saying there is a liberal bias in the media is the same as saying that Pugs are the cutest dogs in the world. Most everyone already knows both to be true.

The bias is ubiquitous. We see it every day.

I am a member of the UNCW Board of Trustees and recently, we learned of a violent post on social media from a professor who typed “Blow up Republicans.” Over the last few days, the media has covered it, including a reporter from “Inside Higher Education” who wrote her piece, questioning my motives in speaking out about it. I suggest that she did so as a not-so-subtle reminder to conservatives that if you dare to deviate from the preferred script on college campuses, you better watch out.

Parents and students had blown the whistle to UNCW over a month ago, but the board just learned about this last week. Students and parents from all over have contacted us, expressing their anger and disappointment about a professor who should say such things. (NOTE: On June 30, Dr. Dan Johnson issued a very heartfelt and sincere apology. I just finished reading it, and as far as I am concerned, this personnel matter should be closed. But the more significant issue remains).

Instead of writing about how inappropriate it was for this professor to represent the UNCW this way, about how unseemly and unprofessional it was for a grown man who teaches students to set this poor example, she chose to write about the trustee who had something to say about it.

And she did so as if to suggest that I should not be saying anything at all, that we should all just carry on and pretend that nothing happened.

If I were a trustee speaking out against a conservative professor who had posted a violent comment, I think we all know how different her story would have been.

So, what does this have to do with our country’s upcoming birthday?

Everything.

Extremists seek to cancel and negate our founding fathers, the first visionaries in human history to enshrine freedom of expression as a fundamental human right. What irony.

And lucky for him, this professor is protected by that right. But the reporter believes that when a trustee exercises the same right to freely express contempt for a post suggesting to “Blow up Republicans,” his motives should be questioned.

Let me confess why I am motivated to raise awareness on this issue: As a trustee at a public university over the last few years, I have come to believe that the most important value that should define “higher education” is a diversity of thought. We spend millions of dollars ensuring that we have a diversity of everything else.  But we fail, miserably, in supporting and protecting differing points of view – conservative points of view.  Unless you unilaterally disavow any thoughts inconsistent with the prevailing cultural narratives, you are unwelcome. You risk being canceled.  If you are a conservative student, you risk a bad grade. If you are a conservative faculty member, you will not be promoted (i.e., Mike Adams).

It is well past time for the UNC Board of Governors to address, head-on, the idea that thousands of students and faculty members across the entire university system find themselves self-censoring for fear of retribution just because they hold conservative views.  This is unacceptable. All voices matter.

Now, more than ever, it is important for those who love our country and the rights it gives us, to own them. To exercise them. To respect them. To protect them. And the BOG should join the fight.

If you have not realized it by now, there is a thought war raging in this country with two different visions for our future. And wars do not win themselves.

Happy Independence Day.