- The Washington Times - Friday, May 13, 2016

Republican financier Charles Koch and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg penned a joint op-ed Thursday evening calling on universities across the country to uphold free speech principles and stop “coddling intolerance” of independent thought.

“During college commencement season, it is traditional for speakers to offer words of advice to the graduating class,” the two men wrote for The Wall Street Journal. “But this year the two of us — who don’t see eye to eye on every issue — believe that the most urgent advice we can offer is actually to college presidents, boards, administrators and faculty.

“Our advice is this: Stop stifling free speech and coddling intolerance for controversial ideas, which are crucial to a college education — as well as to human happiness and progress,” they continued. “Across America, college campuses are increasingly sanctioning so-called ‘safe spaces,’ ‘speech codes,’ ‘trigger warnings,’ ‘microaggressions’ and the withdrawal of invitations to controversial speakers. By doing so, colleges are creating a climate of intellectual conformity that discourages open inquiry, debate and true learning. Students and professors who dare challenge this climate, or who accidentally run afoul of it, can face derision, contempt, ostracism — and sometimes even official sanctions.”

Mr. Koch and Mr. Bloomberg argued that freedom of expression cannot exist without the freedom to offend.

“Colleges are increasingly shielding students from any idea that could cause discomfort or offense,” they wrote. “We believe that this new dynamic, which is doing a terrible disservice to students, threatens not only the future of higher education, but also the very fabric of a free and democratic society. The purpose of a college education isn’t to reaffirm students’ beliefs, it is to challenge, expand and refine them — and to send students into the world with minds that are open and questioning, not closed and self-righteous.

“Many ideas that the majority of Americans now hold dear — including that all people should have equal rights, women deserve the right to vote, and gays and lesbians should be free to marry whom they choose — were once unpopular minority views that many found offensive,” they wrote. “They are now widely accepted because people were free to engage in a robust dialogue with their fellow citizens.”

The men urged college administrators to look at the University of Chicago’s Statement on Principles of Free Expression, which affirms its commitment to the First Amendment, as a point of reference.

“The continued march of justice and progress depends on free speech, open minds and rational discourse,” they concluded. “Colleges and universities — and those who hold their degrees — have helped lead the way for most of this nation’s history. The well-being of future generations of Americans depends on the preservation of that great legacy.”

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