Are College Students Like Children Who Need Their Free Speech Limited?

According to Eric Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, college students are not really adults who can handle having their ideas challenged, but are more like children who need protection from freedom of speech.

Never mind that a large percentage of our military is made up of people under the age of 24. Are the people who are eligible to fight our wars, and take part in our democracy children?

In a recent Slate article, Posner wrote, “Critics complain that universities are treating adults like children. The problem is that universities have been treating children like adults… Even in college, they must be protected like children while being prepared to be adults.”

Students make rash decisions when it comes to things like free speech, Posner argues, which is why they need protection, if not from their parents, then from the university. He writes, “[students], who, apparently recognizing that their parents and schools have not fully prepared them for independence, want universities to resume their traditional role in loco parentis.”

“If students want to learn biology and art history in an environment where they needn’t worry about being offended or raped, why shouldn’t they,” Posner argues. He goes further to suggest that libertarians should “reflect on the irony that the private market, in which they normally put their faith, reflects a preference among students for speech restrictions.”

In regards to codes that limit free speech, he suggests that students take their debates to the town square, and off campus.

This has the opportunity to be limiting because when planning an event, or bringing in a speaker for college students, one of the likely goals would be to have the maximum amount of students attend. Where do college students spend a large portion of their time? On campus.

Should college campuses be censored? David Hacker, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom does think so. “Public Universities are supposed to be the marketplace of ideas where all viewpoints are considered, not censored as the article suggests,” said Hacker to Campus Reform in an email.

Limiting free speech on college campuses does not only mean possible unnecessary censorship, but could also violate a student’s first amendment rights. Hacker wrote, “Not to mention all Americans, including adult students, have first amendment rights. For instance, we have represented students whose religious speech was censored so a different ideological agenda can be propagated without dissent.”

Posner’s article brings up the question: Are free speech codes on college campuses necessary? And if they are, where is line between protecting students and violating their first amendment rights?

According to Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, “Unless we are willing to rethink 40 years of constitutional law, repeal the 26th amendment, and tell the 40% of our military that is 24 or below that it has to come home, the infantilization of college students must stop.”

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