Viewpoint discrimination is an ugly side effect of cancel culture’s prevailing influence in higher education — and it is often guised in overly broad campus policies that claim to promote public health and safety.
In this post-pandemic world of 2021, university administrators are using coronavirus policies as battering rams aimed at conservative clubs and students alike. Whether the crackdown is administered by school officials or tyrannical student government associations that have been allowed and even encouraged to discriminate, it’s clear that the free speech rights of conservative students are being violated.
Mask policies, which are strictly enforced against conservative organizations while other campus events go mask-free, are the easiest target. See the University of Wisconsin’s mask policy, which was heavily enforced when Republican Sen. Ted Cruz was invited by a student club to record a live episode of his podcast. The strict mask policy forced the event off campus. Compare this to the UW football game held that same week, where over 75,000 football fans were allowed to attend without wearing any masks or following any social distance policies.
UW’s spokesperson, Meredith McGlone said, “Medical evidence has proved wearing masks saves lives by preventing the spread of COVID-19. The campus mask policy has allowed UW to successfully resume in-person activities this fall.” If this is something the school truly believes, why would they only enforce mask policies at some events and not others? This arbitrary enforcement of their campus health and safety policies is meant to stifle free speech.
Sadly, inconsistent treatment of conservative ideas on college campuses is relatively standard. Over the years, schools have wavered with how much intellectual diversity they prefer to have on campus and when it is appropriate to crack down on unwanted speech. And the liberal preference on campus is hard to combat, as it tends to hold the majority viewpoint among administrators.
At Ohio Northern University, student clubs must have all T-shirts and other club clothing preapproved by the school before distributing them to club members. The Back the Blue club couldn’t get a “Thin Blue Line” T-shirt approved because the shirt could potentially offend the Black Lives Matter crowd on campus. In this case, the school specifically stated that the subjectively “offensive” viewpoint — which supported law enforcement — was the reason it rejected the T-shirts. It makes you wonder if a “F**k the police” slogan would have passed the smell test.
Students are now operating in a “what applies to some might not for others” environment.
For example, at the University of Houston, the school refused to recognize a Christian club that expected its members to practice the Christian faith, stating that the club’s rules violated the school’s discrimination policy. However, many of the other existing clubs on campus were allowed to limit their memberships based on race/ethnicity, sex, veteran status and nationality. So why are Christians different?
More must be done. At Speech First, we represent our student members and hold schools accountable in the court of law. We challenge bad policies that stifle student speech and recognize that the law is one of our primary tools against irrational cancel culture trends such as these. But what about the education of those student leaders who are so bent on canceling their peers? Universities need to better facilitate on-campus training to reinforce why free speech and the diversity of ideas are crucial to the higher education experience.
So many universities today make “equity” one of their central concerns. Can university administrators say that this lopsided enforcement of campus policies is equitable? The new mantra of the left — that “some are more equal than others” — rings loud and clear on university campuses, and the less we fight back, the worse it will get.
• Cherise Trump is the executive director of Speech First.