Florida lawmakers are promoting a highly invasive cure for a disease that doesn’t exist: they are trying to impose different views on the campuses of state colleges and universities under the dubious belief that everyone in academia thinks alike.
They plan for faculty members and students to state their deepest reflections on controversial issues for officials to assess to see if too many people share one opinion. The more similar the thoughts, the worse the grade would be for the school when sharing state funds.
These legislators want more of their ideas to be taught, and less on the other side of the spectrum.
They seek it in the name of intellectual freedom, though it requires people to discover the beliefs of the kind of anti-intellectual mind explored by dictator Big Brother in the classic novel George Orwell nineteen eighty-four. In that world distorted by facts, enslavement was freedom and there was no privacy or freedom of thought.
A version of this bill falls apart every year, but House has now passed it and longtime sponsor Ray Rodrigues appears to have the votes to pass it to the Senate this week.
It is not difficult to understand what the supporters want. They are at the conservative end of the spectrum and students have been more liberal for eons than their elders. “If you are not a liberal at the age of 25, you do not have a heart. If you’re not a conservative by age 35, you don’t have a brain, ”the quote was (perhaps by mistake) attributed to Winston Churchill.
Mr. Rodrigues wants to subject everyone to this brain scan so that universities make sure that opinions are divided equally on issues important to him and his supporters.
A balanced campus sounds reasonable until you think about what to do. If we are talking about slavery, should campuses be divided equally whether it was good or bad? If it’s the Holocaust, should half the students think it was all a hoax? If it’s a January attack on Washington, should half the students believe the attackers were patriots fighting for what’s right? Some people really believe in all these things, but should the university be forced to find enough students and professors to express such ideas?
This is an impossible problem: who decides which ideas must be balanced and which are the questions they then choose? Here we mix legislative interference in academics and personal freedoms that involves coercive investigations of the mind to be judged by individuals of a unique mindset. The parallel is the Spanish Inquisition and what it has done to both freedom of opinion and academic progress in Spain.
In one way we can sympathize with Mr. Rodrigues. How, after all, can ultraconservative views win over students? Campuses always have a wide range of views, including some on the edge in all directions, left and right – in fact, they are home to a far wider range of ideas than our state’s legislation. Students receive valuable mind tests in listening to and discussing a wide range of ideas. In such free environments, persuading a large number of students to conservative philosophies is similar to keeping cats – it simply cannot be done.
We agree 100% with Mr. Rodrigues that one view should not dominate campuses, but where he misses the point is that campuses are now definitely not environments that follow a leader. Students in a free society do not think in step. Only if it makes the campus less free can it achieve its goals of a state-regulated pattern of opinion. It operates in China and Cuba, but that is not what we in this nation deserve in an educational environment.
The account has several valid points.
It seeks to provide invited speakers with all possible views on campus. But any institution that will not do so without a government order is not, above all, worthy of being called a “university.”
It also denies the trend of creating so-called safe spaces on campus where students don’t have to hear attitudes they find offensive. True: universities should not be greenhouses that nurture those who will only hear what they agree with. When students graduate, they will live in a world where all sorts of crackpot views are broadcast – even those people who want to explore by editing the brains of professors and students to make sure they think well, which in this case would be far from true.
On any decent campus Mr. Rodrigues should be allowed to express his views and without any warning signs that they might offend the tender ears of dissenting students. On the other hand, one should not be authorized to listen or test whether any faculty or students would really agree with him.
It is, rather than a brainstorming that the legislature is likely to pass, a real test of academic freedom.