Colleges are prizing “diversity” and “equity” at the expense of free speech and transparency, judging from a recent study by the civil-liberties group Speech First. Recognition of the value of free speech is “strikingly absent” from most college orientations for freshmen, and diversity/equity/inclusion (DEI) topics are covered vastly more than free speech issues. The College Fix reports. 91 percent of orientation programs emphasize DEI, while most don’t mention free speech or the need to tolerate different viewpoints at all:
Speech First, a 4-year-old nonprofit that advances free speech on college campuses through advocacy and litigation, obtained the results by filing Freedom of Information Act requests to over 50 public universities asking for freshman orientation materials….Speech First Executive Director Cherise Trump told The College Fix that the process of developing the report, which took nearly a year to finish, was “wrought with delays, excuses, additional fees, and redactions.”
Many universities were reluctant to comply with the Freedom of Information Act requests. While 51 universities ultimately complied, 3 universities—Arizona State University, Colorado State University-Fort Collins, and University of California-Berkeley—did not respond.
Examples of orientation DEI issues highlighted by Speech First include a Northern Kentucky University orientation video that labels the phrases “Where are you from?” and “I don’t see race” as microaggressions and a James Madison University PowerPoint featuring 34 slides on diversity, power and oppression…At State University of New York at New Paltz, Speech First found incoming students are required to take an “Implicit Association Test” asking them to match skin colors with various words, objects and weapons. The test is hosted on a Harvard website and facilitated at multiple universities nationwide.
At the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, freshman orientation features a presentation that asserts “bias” includes “a tendency to believe that some ideas are better than others” and asks students to analyze their identities using an “identity wheel.”….To combat the overemphasis on DEI, Speech First opened a tip line for university students to share what is being covered during new student orientation.
“We know our findings only scratched the surface of what we are certain is out there,” Trump said via email. “We hope that students and pro-free speech faculty send us materials from their new student orientations (videos, powerpoints, images, pdfs, etc.) that will expose universities that are attempting to impose their dogmatic political agendas onto students while encouraging them to censor and report one another if they diverge.”…In a study conducted last year by Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, RealClearEducation and College Pulse, 80 percent of students reported that they self-censor on campus. Another 66 percent said it was acceptable to shout down a speaker to prevent them from speaking on campus.
“If students are told as soon as they step on campus that they must feel guilty, ashamed, and they must be hyper-sensitive towards their peers, then they will be afraid to express their thoughts, ultimately limiting their knowledge to whatever they are told rather than expanding their minds through discourse, debate, and inquiry,” Speech First states in the survey’s conclusion.
More details at this link. The College Fix article describes Speech First as making requests for records under the Freedom of Information Act. In fact, some of the records requests it made were not made under laws called the Freedom of Information Act.
It should be noted that the federal Freedom of Information Act applies only to federal agencies, not state agencies. To get records from a state university, you need to request them under a state law. That state law might also be known as a Freedom of Information Act (like Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act). Or it might be known as the “Public Records Act” (like the California Public Records Act or Washington’s Public Records Act — the latter is a strong freedom-of-information law). Or it might be known as a Right-to-Know law (like Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law). Or it might be known as something else (like Minnesota’s Government Data Practices Act). Entities like the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press can point you to lists of all the state laws dealing with freedom of information or public records, if you need to find the applicable law in your state.