“The…idea that if you just let people talk, it will be this pit of racist pandemonium…is sort of childish and it oversimplifies. But it is a great justification for having a lot of power over speech,” says Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
Lukianoff spoke with Reason TV’s Nick Gillespie about his new book Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, where he details the slow and steady withering of free expression on America’s college campuses.
In some ways, the modern on-campus free-speech movement dates back to 1993’s “water buffalo incident” at the University of Pennsylvania, where a student was brought up on racial harassment charges for using the term “water buffalo” as an insult. That case led directly to the founding of FIRE, which “defends free speech, due process and basic rights on campus.”
A Stanford Law-trained liberal who blogs at the Huffington Post, Lukianoff insists that by restricting controversial or potentially offensive speech, “you’re putting people into echo chambers” where they only interact with people with whom they already agree. That sort of groupthink is dangerous to a free society, says Lukianoff, but it’s particularly appalling to see it instituted at the nation’s colleges and universities, where the free exchange of ideas is supposed to be the whole point of higher education.