Lately, there have been several incidents and events on campuses across America that could potentially interfere with a student’s right to free speech. For instance, the latest incident was on KU’s campus involving David Guth, an associate professor at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications.
Following the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard shootings, Guth tweeted: “#NavyYardShooting The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.” This tweet, along with the administrative withdrawal – much like a paid suspension – of Guth, sparked national controversy.
“Nobody should be surprised that people have strong feelings about expression like Professor Guth’s tweet,” Robert Shibley, senior vice president at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said. “There is nothing wrong with criticizing the professor for his speech. But it is wrong for a university to take official action against a professor simply because some find the ideas he expresses offensive.”
FIRE is an organization that strives to, “defend and sustain individual rights at
America’s colleges and universities … (including) freedom of
speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty and sanctity of
Defending students in this day and age spans across several platforms of communication, one of which is social media – the ever-popular method to share one’s thoughts instantly.
“I like Twitter because it lets me say what I’m feeling and thinking no
matter what the subject is,” Allyson Hall, junior in biology, said. “If I lost my right to free speech, I would
be very upset and take actions towards getting it back.”
While free speech is something many say they would fight for, problems might arise when the littlest of comments – even those with the best of intentions – infuriates the masses.
“The creation of a ‘heckler’s veto’ sends exactly the wrong message and incentivizes further
threats because people will know that those threats will get results,” Shibley said. “Problems like this seem to occur more often than Americans would like. We are being protected for our freedoms, including our freedom of speech, but if one can simply be put in danger by those listening in order to make him stop, this would defeat the purpose entirely.”
While Guth is protected by the First Amendment to the right of free speech, one has to wonder, how far is too far?
“Of course ‘all’ free speech
is not okay,” said Craig Brown, instructor in communication studies and director of forensics and public speaking. “That’s why we do have certain limits on free speech. But
again, the main people complaining are people who are more concerned
with making political hay with this moment
than anything else. Where was their indignation when conservative
politicians were running ads with gun sights on their opposition
Free speech rights mean you
have the right to say what you want, but it does not protect you from
the reactions that your speech may create.”
College campuses, if nowhere else, are seen as an environment where minds are open to ideas and independence as well as a place where individuality is highly regarded. The loss of free speech would have a significant impact on that image and the ability of students to speak their minds.
“If a university is to be a marketplace of ideas, students and
professors should feel like they can share their views—even when
vehement and controversial—without fearing for their jobs or academic
careers,” Shibley said.