State bill would put Big Brother’s thought police on campus
Florida legislators are advancing a highly invasive cure for a disease that does not exist: they are trying to force a diversity of viewpoints onto campuses of state colleges and universities under the dubious belief that everyone in academia thinks alike.
They plan to have faculty members and students list their innermost thoughts about controversial issues for officials to evaluate to see if too many people share a single opinion. The more similar the thoughts, the worse the school would be rated when handing out state funds.
These legislators want more of their ideas taught and fewer from the other side of the spectrum.
They seek this in the name of intellectual freedom, though requiring people to reveal beliefs is the kind of anti-intellectual mind probing that dictator Big Brother ordered in George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. In that fact-warping world, enslavement was liberty and there was no privacy or freedom of thought.
A version of this bill has failed annually, but the House now has passed it and perennial sponsor Ray Rodrigues appears to have the votes to get it through the Senate this week.
It’s not hard to see what the backers want. They’re on the conservative end of the spectrum and college students have for eons been more liberal than their elders. “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain,” is a quotation attributed (perhaps in error) to Winston Churchill.
Mr. Rodrigues aims to submit everyone to this brain scan so that universities make sure opinions divide equally on the issues important to him and his supporters.
A balanced campus sounds reasonable until you think about what-ifs. If we’re talking about slavery, are campuses supposed to be equally divided about whether it was good or bad? If it’s the Holocaust, are half of students supposed to think it was all a hoax? If it’s the January attack on Washington, are half the students supposed to believe the attackers were patriots fighting for what was right? Some people really do believe all of these things, but should a university be forced to find enough students and professors to voice such ideas?
That’s an impossible problem: who decides what ideas must be balanced, and what are the issues that they then select? We’re mingling here a legislative meddling in academics and personal liberties that includes forced mind-probes to be judged by persons of a single mindset. A parallel is the Spanish Inquisition and what it did to both liberty of thought and academic advancement in Spain.
In one way we can sympathize with Mr. Rodrigues. How, after all, can ultra-conservative views win over students? Campuses always harbor a broad range of views, including some on the fringe in every direction, left and right – in fact, they are homes to a far wider range of ideas than is our state legislature. Students get valuable mind tests in listening to and debating a very wide variety of ideas. In such free environments, getting vast numbers of students to espouse conservative philosophies is akin to herding cats – it just can’t be done.
We agree 100% with Mr. Rodrigues that a single viewpoint should not dominate campuses, but where he misses the point is that campuses are definitely not follow-the-leader environments now. Students in a free society do not think in lockstep. Only by making a campus less free can he achieve his aims of a state-ordered pattern of thought. It works in China and Cuba, but that’s not what we in this nation deserve in an educational environment.
The bill does have some valid points.
It seeks to allow invited speakers of every possible viewpoint on campus. But any institution that won’t do that without a state order isn’t worthy of the name “university” in the first place.
It also decries the trend of creating so-called safe spaces on campus where students don’t have to hear views they find offensive. That’s right: universities shouldn’t be hothouses that nurture those who only will hear what they agree with. When students graduate, they will live in a world where all sorts of crackpot views are aired – even those of people who want to probe by edict the brains of professors and students to make sure they are thinking right, which in this case would be far right.
On any decent campus, Mr. Rodrigues should be allowed to air his views, and without any warning signs that they might offend tender ears of students who disagree. On the other hand, there should be no mandate to listen or testing to see if any faculty or students would actually agree with him.
That, and not the brain-probing claptrap that the legislature is likely to pass, is the true test of academic freedom.