Is there an ‘unequal distribution of speech rights’ in higher education?

Higher education is facing an “unequal distribution of speech rights on campus” amid a dramatic shift in the faculty workforce over the past several decades, Kevin Carey writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“Right now, a nontenured faculty member or administrator can be censured, pressured, or even fired for making statements that fall well within the boundaries of contemporary dialogue on racial equality,” writes Carey, director of the education policy program at the New America Foundation. “Tenured faculty, by contrast, can employ harmful speech about race with impunity as long as it’s dressed in a thin layer of academic inquiry or occurs at some remove from the classroom.”

Carey says that he’s not advocating for a reduction in freedom of expression, although he acknowledges the “limits of academic freedom” in extreme cases. Rather, he wants colleges and universities to be more accommodating to free speech rights of nontenured faculty members, who now make up the vast majority of the higher education workforce.

“Great universities can afford to shelter a few cranks and fools in order to support genuinely original thinking,” Carey writes. “But that protection should be extended well beyond the shrinking ranks of the tenured professoriate.”


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