College Alumni are Defending Free Speech on Campus
Over the past couple of years, alumni groups have formed across the country with the goal of protecting free speech. The Alumni Free Speech Alliance, a network of alumni groups in support of free speech, was started in 2021 by alumni from Cornell University, Davidson College, Princeton University, University of Virginia, and Washington & Lee University. Today, the alliance is made up of 16 alumni groups from different colleges and universities across the United States.
Defense of free speech in higher education is needed now more than ever. According to a report from the Knight Foundation, the number of students who believe their campuses are hostile to free speech is steadily increasing. From 2016 to 2021, the percentage of students who believe their campus climate stifles free speech rose from 54% to 65%. During that same period, the percentage of students who believe their right to freedom of speech is secure has fallen from 73% to 47%.
Another survey by RealClearEducation, College Pulse, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education found that over 80% of students self-censor at least some of the time on campus. However, they also found that 66% of students believe they should be able to shout down a speaker on their campus to prevent them from speaking, and 23% believe it is acceptable to use violence to stop a speaker on campus.
ALEC supports freedom of speech, especially in higher education. Our model policy, The Free Speech in Higher Education Act prohibits public colleges and universities from creating “bias response teams” designed to stifle speech on campus. The model also prohibits these institutions from charging student groups discriminatory security fees for their speakers and creates a cause of action for any violations.
Another ALEC model policy aimed at protecting free speech in higher education is the Forming Open and Robust University Minds (FORUM) Act. The FORUM Act eliminates “free speech zones” that prohibit students from speaking freely in areas outside designated spaces, protects students from disciplinary action due to lawful speech, requires public institutions of higher education to report on free speech issues and educate students on their free speech rights, and allows students to bring a cause of action for freedom of speech violations against them.
Some states have passed similar legislation to protect freedom of speech at their public colleges and universities. For example, in 2021, Montana passed HB 218, which is based on the FORUM Act, prohibits “free speech zones” at public colleges and universities in the state and requires them to permit all non-disruptive first amendment activities in all outdoor, publicly accessible areas on campus. As of today, 22 states have banned free speech zones at their public colleges and universities.
More states should follow their lead and prohibit free speech zones and other regulations on lawful speech at their public colleges and universities.