By Richard Vedder
I have a confession to make. On average, I like college students more than university administrators. True, college students are often immature, overly hedonistic, and abysmally ignorant of many of the fundamental events, persons, and concepts of Western civilization. But they are mostly sincere, usually honest, and generally mean well. That is as true today as when I began teaching back in the days of Socrates (actually, a couple dozen centuries thereafter). By contrast, many college administrators these days simply are untruthful, pompous, self-righteous and arrogant. I find the sins of students less egregious on average than those of individuals running institutions.
Two things in today's INSIDE HIGHER ED reminded me of that. At the University of Chicago, students are protesting attempts by the administration to move to a Common Application form. The university argues that this will increase the number of applicants. Students say that UC is just trying to deny more students admission, thereby raising the ranking of the school in US News & World Report. The kids like the current slightly eccentric, extremely rigorous academic orientation of the school, and think the new UC administration may be trying to dilute it, disappointing many denied applicants in the process. I suspect the kids are right.
And then there is Justin Park, the student at Johns Hopkins, who, on a private web site, urged people to go a fraternity party centering around the theme Halloween in the 'Hood. Someone took offense at this party and the publicizing of it, arguing it is racially insensitive. I don't think that it was necessarily insensitive, but even if it were, should universities react to the exercise of student First Amendment rights by suspending the kids from school, making them read a dozen prescribed books, etc.? Doing so puts a chilling effect on free expression and, ironically generates resentment, maybe even hatred, towards racial minorities. This type of high handed attempt to enforce speech codes is absolutely repulsive, and I hope John Hopkins pays a price for its authoritarian efforts to suppress free expression. Students are angry, I guess at Hopkins. Good for them. They are right and the university's $837,016 president, William Brody and his henchmen (or hench people, to be more politically correct) are dead wrong. Freedom fighters like Alan Kors and Harvey Silvergate are no doubt coming to the defense of freedom of expression at Hopkins, as well they should.
Why do we provide tax exemptions to institutions that are supposedly marketplaces of ideas and expression, when the institution itself forbids types of expression generally acceptable in American society? Shouldn't at the minimum any speech or expression which is legal in society at large be tolerated without penalty at any institution that accepts handouts from the taxpayers?