Attacks on Freedom of Speech Are Louder

How Mount St. Mary's University's problem is infecting us all

Occupy+Lancaster+and+other+concerned+citizens+protesting+part+of+the+National+Defense+Authorization+Act+in+Penn+Square.+Photo+Credit%3A+Lancasteronline.com
Occupy Lancaster and other concerned citizens protesting part of the National Defense Authorization Act in Penn Square. Photo Credit: Lancasteronline.com

Occupy Lancaster and other concerned citizens protesting part of the National Defense Authorization Act in Penn Square. Photo Credit: Lancasteronline.com

Dan Marschka

Dan Marschka

Occupy Lancaster and other concerned citizens protesting part of the National Defense Authorization Act in Penn Square. Photo Credit: Lancasteronline.com

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A university president fires two faculty members, one a tenured professor, dismisses the provost and reprimands his students for “disloyalty.” This is what is happening at Mount St. Mary’s University, a Roman-Catholic university in Emmitsburg, Md.

President Simon Newman of Mount St. Mary’s crushed the free speech of the population he served by using his powers to fire anyone who disagreed with him or reported on the truth. In his dismissal letter to tenured professor Thane Naberhaus, he claimed the professor was disloyal to the college by allowing students to publish in the school paper the President’s off-colored remarks about students who struggle academically. President Newman’s quote, “This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t. You just have to drown the bunnies … put a Glock to their heads,” was published by the school newspaper, prompting a wave of wrath and retaliation. The firings sent shock waves through the university, and after much deliberation, the board requested the president’s resignation by a 87-3 vote. Given the aggressive attack on speech by a college president acting as leviathan to Mount St. Mary’s, it is clear that it is president Newman’s intention on being supreme leader.

Mount St. Mary’s prompted a national dialogue. This event is not limited to Mount St. Mary’s. Nor is it limited to the school newspaper, or the press. Colleges and universities seem to be shifting from encouraging open dialogue of different views, to muffling such differences of their students and faculty. In this occasion, free speech and freedom of the press are clearly protected under the Constitution. But if you watch the news lately, you will see that free speech is being attacked in colleges across America.

It happens when professors don’t like what you say about them in the newspaper. When faculty or even student organizations prevent speakers from presenting in their campuses because of their views. When professors are forced to provide “trigger warnings” before introducing a subject. And it happens when a student is retaliated upon and given a bad grade due to a discussion in class.

Colleges and universities are supposed to be the epitome of knowledge and understanding. Yet, with today’s economic circumstances of survival of the fittest, with tuition evermore unbearable and competition in the talent pool, they are becoming much more business-oriented than concerned with the conversation of knowledge. This business-oriented framework is concerned with teaching what is there, but not with discussing if what is being taught is correct. Maybe a sort of “publication bias,” to borrow a term from science, is what’s afflicting American colleges.

Bill Maher, a well-known political comedian was recently barred from speaking at University of California, Berkley for his views on Islam. Chris Rock tells Vulture.com that he “stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative,” meaning colleges’ social views in the willingness to not offend. Even former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice backed out of giving a commencement speech at Rutgers University after students protested against the invitation. According to the New York Times, students claimed she should not have been invited due to her involvement in the Iraq war.

Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt write in The Atlantic how trigger warnings are supposed to “protect students from words and ideas they don’t like.” Just the thought of choosing what you learn gives me the chills. Could you imagine a 19-year-old student choosing to only learn computer science, video games, and sports, and not include philosophy, social science, or mathematics? Lukianoff and Haidt write, “Trigger warnings are alerts that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response.” Is this not what President Newman of Mount St. Mary’s is doing to its population when it fires professors and reprimands students for quoting him in the school paper? Is this not him applying censorship and a trigger warning in the college?

I remember when I attended my commencement ceremony at Adelphi University. Several times I was told by faculty and honored students to question what I am learning, to add to the conversation, to not be afraid to speak up. A natural speaker, I chose that route. After an argument in class with a professor at Adelphi University about the validity of voting rights for prison mates, the professor sent me a scathing email asking me to not speak in class anymore. What are colleges expecting from students and from faculty? Is it what they say they want them to do or is that just a front to keep the status quo and make them fall in line? How is it possible that despite all the rights given by the law to students, faculty and speech that Mount St. Mary’s president is able to play with the lives of its school population like Lego’s?

Now I ask academics, faculty, leaders, and students around the country. How do you expect students to speak up when they are censured? How do you expect students to speak up when they are reprimanded for doing so? How do you expect students to speak up when you won’t even allow the former Secretary of State to the United States express her views in your campuses?

Academia is at a turning point. The future of academic learning will either be a politically correct future where we metaphorically stone every voice that is different than the majority’s or a future that resembles the changing times of the 60s. It will either be a future where students enter college as in a Henry Ford assembly line, adding on every prepackaged item, moving along and exiting with a degree. Or it will resemble a time when desegregation, women’s rights, and many other noble, yet controversial topics thrived and flourished. The freedom to learn, to know, to comprehend things that are not appeasing to society is America’s greatest premise. Colleges across the country seem to be failing at its most important contribution to humanity. Giving students a real education no one can take away: the one of thinking freely and independently.

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