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How to Restore Freedom of Speech on College Campuses

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Some propose cutting off federal funds, but a targeted approach may preserve speech and maintain educational excellence.

Research dollars are a highly sought-after revenue source for universities, and federal funding given to some of America's institutions has wrought incredible discoveries.

Since World War II, the federal government has used universities as "subcontractors." Nearly $40 billion in federal funding is given to schools each year.

But college campuses of late are becoming more prone to "groupthink," and more hostile to dissenting points of views. They've set up speech codes and rules for debate that inhibit the free thinking needed to keep research and development strong.

In response, some frustrated Americans are calling for public universities to have their funds stripped, including money from student loans and grants. But doing so, while seemingly an easy answer, will cause a ripple effect that creates more problems than it solves.

One, it harms students and limits educational access. Two, it compromises the value we place on choice in our school systems and for students to study what they wish. Three, it gives federal government too much authority to meddle in codes and rules of individual schools.

Most importantly, denying funding limits the valuable work research institutes are doing.

A more pragmatic approach is needed.

Education scholars Frederick M. Hess and J. Grant Addison offer this incentive-based idea: flip the switch on universities. Require schools to provide free-speech environments to be eligible to receive funds:

Colleges and universities must offer assurance that they do not restrict constitutionally protected speech, engage in viewpoint discrimination, or constrain free inquiry.

Those institutions awarded a federal research grant must commit to safeguarding free inquiry to the best of their ability, and to appropriately address any policies or practices that serve to hinder free inquiry or scholarly independence.

Institutions must formally acknowledge that those found to violate these commitments may be obliged to refund the balance of funds for ongoing federally funded research and be rendered ineligible for future research funding.

It's a nuanced point, essentially a carrot, not a stick. But administrators will alter their policies to protect freedom of speech if it ensures the research dollars keep flowing.

What do you think of requiring universities to commit to free speech in order to receive federal funding?

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