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EDITORIAL: Stop squelching speech at college campuses

College campuses are supposed to be marketplaces of ideas, where no one should be afraid to study and debate controversial ideas. If a university limits speech, it limits study — to say nothing of stomping our most important rights.

Count the University of Michigan among the campuses caving to political correctness. Michigan has launched a $16,000 “inclusive language campaign” designed to teach students which words are considered offensive and should not be used around others. As part of the campaign, posters have been put up around campus warning students not to use words that could be deemed offensive — words like “gay,” “crazy,” “insane,” “retarded,” “tranny,” “illegal alien,” and “ghetto.” The campaign also warns against “unacceptable” statements like “that test raped me” and “I want to die.” Students have been asked to sign a pledge vowing to abide by the new guidelines and help others “understand the importance of using inclusive language.”

So it’s offensive for students to say the campaign and the people who conceived it are insane? That’s probably by design.

In an interview with The College Fix, university spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said that instead of stifling free speech, the campaign “has just the opposite effect,” as it aims to “address campus climate by helping individuals understand that their words can impact someone and to encourage individuals to commit to creating a positive campus community.”

“This program is intended to be educational, not regulatory,” he added. “We hope there is only the understanding that we all participate in, and have the power to influence campus culture.”

Mr. Fitzgerald says he believes the program “will make discourse more constructive by respecting the views and perspectives of others.”

“A campus conversation about the impact of words is good for everyone,” he says.

Pardon us as we puke. This program is ridiculous. The university can say all it wants about this being an educational campaign that doesn’t have any consequences attached. Under this design, it might even pass constitutional muster. But it is obviously intended to limit free expression and regulate speech through top-down pressure, and anything that does that is an affront to the Bill of Rights. (Did we mention they want students to sign a pledge?)

The University of Michigan has joined countless other institutions in failing students by teaching them they have a right to not be offended — which they don’t — and by creating an environment that encourages students to report one another over words regardless of their context. This idea shouldn’t merely be scrapped. The people who came up with the idea and spent money imposing it should be fired.

If you don’t believe groupthink and crackdowns on free speech have consequences, just look at what’s happening at Marquette University. The school violated its own policies by revoking professor John McAdams’ tenure and firing him over a blog post. He criticized a graduate student instructor who told a student in class that it was wrong to oppose same-sex marriage.

“While this is more than likely just an excuse to get rid of McAdams, the fact that McAdams’ supposed offense was criticizing a teacher for squelching dissenting opinions in class only makes Marquette’s utter contempt for dissenters more obvious,” said Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Executive Director Robert Shibley.

Citizens do not check their freedoms at the gates of college campuses. Ever. Period.

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