Commentary: Presidents Are Changing Their Tune on Free Speech

May 03, 2023 1 min read

Commentary: Presidents Are Changing Their Tune on Free Speech

by David Jesse,  Chronicle of Higher Education 

The tales are swapped in conference-hotel hallways or over quiet dinners: controversial speakers attracting rowdy protests, professors drawing fire for an offhand comment during a lecture and then posted online, legislators trying to codify what can and can’t be taught in classrooms.

College presidents know a free-speech controversy is going to burst forth on their campus if it hasn’t already. One week it’s a guest lecturer shouted down at Stanford. The next it’s a Florida bill that would restrict how campuses can teach about race in general-education courses. The next it’s a request for mandatory trigger warnings at Cornell. While in the past a president’s response to such a controversy may have been silence or a carefully worded message, now college leaders are beginning to speak up in more forceful terms.

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