According to a survey conducted by The College Fix, Kansas State is ranked No. 1 among the nation’s public universities for free speech.
The rankings include 55 colleges and universities, with K-State falling second overall behind the private University of Chicago.
Survey results scored K-State’s conservative free speech higher than liberal free speech, suggesting those surveyed see more censoring of liberal opinions on campus. When the surveyed universities were ranked according to liberal free speech only, K-State ranked 34 out of 55.
In response to K-State’s ranking in the survey, Colin Goodman, senior in computer science, wrote a statement in an email on behalf of Young Democrats at K-State.
“We celebrate our Constitutional rights and welcome a robust marketplace of ideas on campus,” Goodman wrote. “It is a shame that some people abuse this sacred right to harass and intimidate students.”
The past summer’s incidents involving a controversial tweet by a K-State student about George Floyd’s death were cited by The College Fix as an illustration of the university’s support of free speech. At the time of the incident, President Richard Myers responded to demands to expel the author of the tweet by saying doing so would violate his Constitutional right to free speech.
Myers upheld his statement in response to the survey results.
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“It’s not for the university, but individuals, to judge the speech,” Myers said. “People can openly and freely contest arguments they don’t agree with. That’s the whole beauty of this. But to suppress speech, that’s where you get on a slippery slope.”
While Myers said he doesn’t personally see the value in Twitter, many K-State students find themselves overly concerned with the opinions of others on social platforms.
“There’s always an element of hate that will be pumping out,” he said. “That’s just part of life, and that’s not just at K-State. I think we should be proud of the fact that we are recognized for supporting freedom of expression. It’s fundamental to what we do. There’s always conflict. We hope the conflict is civil and respectful. Sometimes it is not, and the good thing about Twitter is if you don’t want to be upset by it, don’t look at it.”
The “tricky” case of the insensitive tweet can be compared to that of the Westboro Baptist Church, Myers said. The Topeka-based group regularly protests the LGBTQ+ community on campus.
“Obviously, some people very much disagree with their stance,” Myers said. “When I was in the military, they would come to military funerals and military events in Washington D.C. and protest, and that really bothered a lot of us. But we also realize that it’s their right to protest.”
On public land, which the university is, Myers said the administration can limit protestors from interfering with daily life, but they can’t tell them what they can and can’t say. Myers said K-State holds this value close, as it is vital to education.
“One of the reasons you come to university is to learn and hear ideas contrary to your own,” Myers said. “Ninety-nine percent of the people are going to say, ‘That’s not right,’ but the one percent still have the right to express those opinions. Those who disagree should vigorously argue the opposite.”
This week in particular, Myers said, it’s been clear to see the right to free speech exercised on all sides of the presidential election. He said this free exchange of ideas is what makes a democracy.
“You can’t have it both ways,” Myers said. “If you want free speech, you have to accept free speech. If you want to start limiting speech and picking out, ‘Oh, I don’t like that part because that’s hurtful to some people,’ … where does that end? Pretty soon, you’ve set up a perfect storm for democracy to fizzle out.”
Myers said the university’s offering of programs and seminars to discuss polarizing topics are vital to the educational process and understanding the meaning of free speech.
“What that means is that sometimes, you’re going to have to hear things that are hurtful,” Myers said. “The solution is to argue the other side of the case and take positive action. It’s not easy sometimes, but the alternative is really, really bad.”
It’s up to all faculty, students and staff, Myers said, to uphold the right to freedom of expression at K-State.