This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos called out the nation’s universities on Monday in a talk about campus free speech and the First Amendment.
DeVos said that “precious few” campuses could be described as “free and open” and that a rising tide of censorship could be traced back to a “relativistic culture” in which truth is subjective.
“Our self-centered culture denies truth, because acknowledging it would mean certain feelings and certain ideas could be wrong,” DeVos said in a lecture at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, which hosted her as part of its Constitution Day celebration.
The result, DeVos said, is a campus culture in which students try to shout down speakers they dislike and administrators use bureaucratic tricks to suppress speech that could inflame tensions. She contended that colleges are attempting to promote harmony when they should, instead, try to promote truth.
“Administrators too often attempt to shield students from ideas they subjectively decide are hateful or offensive or injurious or ones they just don’t like,” she said.
She specifically cited cases at Arkansas State University, the University of Michigan, Lawrence University and the College of William & Mary to back her claims. The first two incidences involved students affiliated with conservative causes and the third dealt with political correctness in comedy. Her fourth example came from an event where students affiliated with Black Lives Matter disrupted a talk by a free speech advocate from the American Civil Liberties Union.