Ivy League pres: Campus free speech 'doing just fine' despite contrary evidence

  • The president of Columbia University argued in a recent op-ed that college campuses are welcoming to free speech.
  • This, despite multiple documented instances of alleged discrimination against conservative students in recent months.
  • A recent national poll also found that the majority of students say conservatives on campus face discrimination at least "some" of the time.

The president of one Ivy League university took aim at President Donald Trump and his recent campus free speech executive order. 

Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University, criticized in an op-ed for The Atlantic Trump's executive order, which requires colleges to do what "they’re already required by law to do: extend free-speech protections to men and women on campus." 

"The executive order was a transparent exercise in politics."   

The headline for the op-ed, which Bollinger authored, reads, "Free speech on campus is doing just fine, thank you." 

"The executive order was a transparent exercise in politics. Its intent was to validate the collective antipathy that many Trump boosters feel toward institutions of higher learning," Bollinger wrote, adding that "the president’s claim that the campus free-speech order was needed to defend 'American values that have been under siege' ignored two essential facts." 

The Columbia University president went on to claim that universities today are "more hospitable venues for open debate than the nation as a whole." Bollinger then noted the history of debate over what is "acceptable speech," and that "exchanges over the boundaries of campus speech should, therefore, be welcomed rather than reviled when they take place."

[RELATED: NY college pres.: ‘A campus is not the place for free speech’]

Bollinger noted a  2016 Knight Foundation survey that found that 78 percent of college students reported they favor an open learning environment that includes offensive views, compared with 66 percent of U.S. adults saying the same. However, a more recent survey conducted in 2018 found a much less favorable number for Bollinger's argument with 70 percent of college students saying they favor an open learning environment. 

However, as Campus Reform previously reported, the majority of college students in a recent College Pulse survey said that conservatives on college campuses experience at least "some" discrimination for their political views. 

Bollinger cites what he calls the "surest evidence of censorship or the suppression of ideas on college campuses," the disinvitation of speakers on campuses. Bollinger noted that of the "thousands" of speakers who come to more than 4,500 campuses across the U.S. each year, only 11 were disinvited in 2018. 

"This is a minuscule fraction of the universe of speakers who express their views annually on American campuses," Bollinger wrote. 

But as Campus Reform has documented for years, it's not just the disinvitation of speakers that threatens free speech on campuses. Other forms of alleged discrimination - from groups not getting Registered Student Organization status to being shut down while tabling to the existence of free speech zones - are common on campuses. 

[RELATED: Disturbing number of students say hate speech is not free speech, report says]

Just this week, Campus Reform reported on how a conservative group at Santa Clara University in California was denied registered student organization status a second time because members of the student government deemed that doing so would cause "emotional harm" to other students. The Santa Clara student government previously denied the group registered status but was overruled by the school's administration.

In February, Syracuse University told a group of conservative students that they were ineligible to receive registered status in part because they believed in the superiority of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution, the school said, is "exclusionary" to some students. 

This came just months before a conservative student organization at Transylvania University was told by university administrators to stop tabling after a group of socialist students was previously allowed to table in the same spot. 

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Jon Street | Managing Editor

Jon Street is a news editor for Campus Reform. Six years ago, Jon cut his reporting teeth fresh out of college as an intern at Media Research Center's CNSNews.com, where he interviewed multiple members of Congress and former presidential candidates. From there, he went on to complete a stint at Watchdog.org, where his exclusive, investigative work was picked up or cited by the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox News, National Review, and the Drudge Report, among others. More recently, Jon spent three years as an assistant editor at TheBlaze.com. In his free time, Jon enjoys trying new coffeehouses around the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and traveling back to his home state of Missouri to spend time with his family.

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