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Monday, December 4, 2023

These states are finding creative ways to support free speech on campus

The scenes of ideological intolerance have become all too familiar to Americans. Law students shouting down a federal judge at Stanford Law School. College students protesting the new president of the University of Florida, former Republican U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse. Many of our most prestigious colleges and universities have been reduced to ideological monocultures – both inside and outside the classroom.

The electorate’s growing antipathy about the sad state of free speech in America’s college classrooms is not lost on politicians and policymakers.

Realizing the hardened bureaucracies that exist in most public universities, a growing number of governors and state legislatures (mostly led by Republicans) are taking a creative approach to promoting free speech on campus by funding new centers of teaching and learning on subjects ranging from free-market economics to the unique importance of the American founding. 

Large group of students sitting in the lecture hall at university and listening to their teacher. Focus on the professor. Dark tones.

A growing number of governors and state legislatures are taking a creative approach to promoting free speech on campus. (Izabela Habur)

In the last few months, several states have launched new “institutes” and “colleges” on the campuses of their major state-run universities:

College that attributes soaring enrollment to free speech has a checkered past Video

In January, the University of North Carolina’s Board of Trustees unanimously voted to create a new School of Civic Life and Leadership on their flagship campus in Chapel Hill. In the announcement, one of the trustees, Marty Kotis, opined, “You need to be able to take the time to have that dialogue and understand there’s various perspectives out there; that’s the whole point of learning, not just to be in a bubble, but explore outside that bubble.” The new school will also offer coursework for undergrads as well as serve as a center for public debates and conversations.

Just a few weeks ago, the regents of the University of Texas, announced the building of an entirely new college on the campus of their main location in Austin, expanding the programs of the existing Civitas Institute – an academic center, “committed to exploring the ideas that sustain a free society” (from the website). In supporting this effort, Texas state Sen. Brandon Creighton noted, “The Civitas Institute will be a leader in research, education and policy based on free markets and individual liberty.”

Legal group sues colleges over speech rights to 'hold them accountable in court of law' Video

Most recently, the Ohio State Legislature began debate on Senate Bill 117, which would create two new “civics centers” at Ohio State University (a Salmon P. Chase Center for Civics, Culture and Society) and at the University of Toledo’s law school (an Institute for American Constitutional Thought and Leadership). State Sen. Jerry Cirino, a bill co-author, was quite clear about his main reason for moving these initiatives forward: “One of the ways to change the structural preponderance of one line of thought is to set institutes like these up to assist our universities in moving forward with more intellectual diversity.”


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