Free Speech on Campus

May 20, 2022 • Volume 32, Issue 17
Are legislators and activists curbing free expression?
By Tom Price


Although a poll found that 94 percent of Americans view the First Amendment as “vital” to democracy, free speech is under attack at an “unprecedented” level, according to the American Library Association. The attacks are coming from both the right and the left and are challenging books and curricula in classrooms and libraries at all levels, from pre-K through graduate school, according to free speech advocates. Since the beginning of 2021, lawmakers in 40 states have introduced some 175 bills to restrict teachers’ speech, 15 of which became law. And last year, there were 729 demands to remove a total of 1,597 books from libraries and schools, nearly double the challenges in 2019. Controversial speakers have been disinvited from colleges, and many students say peer pressure causes them to hide their opinions. Some educators blame the disputes on political polarization, conservatives’ unhappiness about changes in teaching and administrators’ fear of conflict — all of it exacerbated by social media. Free-speech advocates — from national organizations to local groups — are fighting back.

Photo of a school board hearing in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, on November 15, 2021. (AP Photo/The Free Lance-Star/Peter Cihelka)
A crowd gathers at a school board hearing last November in Spotsylvania County, Va., to discuss a proposal to pull “sexually explicit” books from school libraries. Efforts to ban certain books, prohibit the teaching of some topics or bar controversial speakers from college campuses are on the rise across the country. (AP Photo/The Free Lance-Star/Peter Cihelka)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Colleges and Universities
May 20, 2022  Free Speech on Campus
Dec. 04, 2020  Graduates' Prospects
Sep. 11, 2020  Higher Education in the COVID Era
Oct. 26, 2018  Issues in Higher Education
Nov. 20, 2015  Greek Life on Campus
May 08, 2015  Free Speech on Campus
Jan. 02, 2015  College Rankings
Jan. 18, 2013  Future of Public Universities
Feb. 04, 2011  Crime on Campus
Jan. 07, 2011  Career Colleges
Apr. 21, 2000  Community Colleges
Feb. 16, 1996  Academic Politics
Jan. 05, 1990  What Should College Students Be Taught?
Jul. 27, 1984  Colleges in the 1980s
Jan. 23, 1981  Plight of America's Black Colleges
Apr. 11, 1980  College Admissions
Sep. 06, 1974  College Recruiting
Mar. 01, 1974  Academic Tenure
Sep. 14, 1966  Graduate School Crush
Arts and Humanities
Civil Rights and Civil Liberty Issues
Conservatism and Liberalism
Consumer Behavior
Diversity Issues
Domestic Issues
Early Childhood Education
Education Policy
Elementary and Secondary Education
Federal Courts
Freedom of Information
Freedom of Speech and Press
Infectious Diseases
Internet and Social Media
Libraries and Educational Media
Online Education
Party Politics
Party Politics
Powers and History of the Presidency
Print Media
Protest Movements
Regulation and Deregulation
Regulation and Legal Issues
Student Movements
Supreme Court History and Decisions
Undergraduate and Graduate Education