Unlearning Liberty - Encounter Books

Unlearning Liberty

Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate

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Publication Details

Hardcover / 336 pages
ISBN: 1594037302
PUBLISHED: 10/23/2012

Unlearning Liberty
Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate

For over a generation, shocking cases of censorship at America’s colleges and universities have taught students the wrong lessons about living in a free society. Drawing on a decade of experience battling for freedom of speech on campus, First Amendment lawyer Greg Lukianoff reveals how higher education fails to teach students to become critical thinkers: by stifling open debate, our campuses are supercharging ideological divisions, promoting groupthink, and encouraging an unscholarly certainty about complex issues.

Lukianoff walks readers through the life of a modern-day college student, from orientation to the end of freshman year. Through this lens, he describes startling violations of free speech rights: a student in Indiana punished for publicly reading a book, a student in Georgia expelled for a pro-environment collage he posted on Facebook, students at Yale banned from putting an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote on a T shirt, and students across the country corralled into tiny “free speech zones” when they wanted to express their views.

But Lukianoff goes further, demonstrating how this culture of censorship is bleeding into the larger society. As he explores public controversies involving Juan Williams, Rush Limbaugh, Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, Larry Summers—even Dave Barry and Jon Stewart—Lukianoff paints a stark picture of our ability as a nation to discuss important issues rationally. Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate illuminates how intolerance for dissent and debate on today’s campus threatens the freedom of every citizen and makes us all just a little bit dumber.

About the Author

Greg Lukianoff is an attorney and the president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). He is the author of Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate and Freedom From Speech, as well as a co-author of The Atlantic’s September 2015 cover story, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” written in partnership with Jonathan Haidt. 

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The truth is, we live in certain times.

I know the saying is that we live in uncertain times, but that is not the case today. America’s metaphorical culture war increasingly feels like a religious war, with too many crusaders and high priests and too few heretics on each side. And yet, the number of educated Americans is at an all-time high and growing. With nearly 70% of high school graduates attending college, upwards of 30% of the population already holding a college degree, and our national discourse dominated by those who have a BA at minimum, one might expect that we’d be in a golden age of thoughtful, creative, intelligent debate and discussion. But that is not the America we live in. The most overlooked reason for this paradox is that the best hope for improving discourse and fostering a deeper, smarter national dialogue, higher education, is failing miserably. And it’s failing largely due to 30 years of censorship on campus, which has taught students to use cheap tricks to shut down discussion rather than stimulate debate, and a system that rewards uncritical minds and unreflective certainty rather than bold scholarly skepticism and doubt.

Recent studies show that students are unwilling to express themselves in the classroom, afraid to hold unpopular views on campus, and are failing to develop critical thinking skills to an embarrassing degree. This is the natural result of a campus environment where you can actually get in trouble for expressing the “wrong” opinion, for engaging in the “wrong” kind of devil’s advocacy, or for provoking discussion with irreverent or unapproved ideas. At the same time, we are paying more and more for higher education, which, perversely, expands the very campus bureaucracy that fosters this anti-free speech environment.

On campus today, students get in trouble for everything from mild satire, to politically incorrect short stories, to having the “wrong opinion” on virtually every hot button issue, and, increasingly, simply for criticizing the college administration. Most campuses cling to speech codes that violate First Amendment principles, without understanding that they not only chill speech but teach students that maybe an open exchange of ideas really isn’t such a good thing.

With all of this going wrong in our society’s “sophistication machine,” it was just a matter of time before the cultivation of bad intellectual habits in our educated classes started damaging the way our entire country talks within itself.