Alexander suggests extending affirmative action to cover political views on college campuses

Sen. Lamar Alexander, who once served as president of the University of Tennessee, is quoted briefly in a lengthy New York Times article on the movement to assure conservatives can voice their views on college and university campuses where some feel they are now intimidated. Excerpt:

The spate of new policies shows how conservatives are successfully advancing one of their longstanding goals: to turn the tables in the debate over the First Amendment by casting the left as an enemy of open and free political expression on campuses. It was at schools like Berkeley, after all, that the free speech movement blossomed in the 1960s.

The new efforts raise a question that has only grown more intractable since President Trump took office: When one person’s beliefs sound like hate speech to another, how do you ensure a more civil political debate?

What conservatives see as a necessary corrective to decades of political imbalance in higher education, liberals and some college administrators see as an overly paternalistic approach to a problem that is being used as ammunition in the culture wars.

…The Goldwater model makes several recommendations for colleges and universities: to create disciplinary sanctions, including expulsion, for students who have been found to have twice interfered with someone’s free expression; to prevent administrators from disinviting speakers, no matter how controversial; and to remain neutral on the controversies of the day.

The model is not without disagreement on the right, however. Its mandatory punishment provisions drew a rebuke from the Charles Koch Institute, one of whose directors said conservatives were “giving in to the same fragility of which they so freely accuse their liberal counterparts.’’ Mr. Koch’s foundation has been a contributor to the institute in the past.

More broadly, some powerful Republicans are questioning whether affirmative action should be extended beyond race to students with less commonly held political views.

“You did it for underrepresented students, do it for underrepresented points of view,” said Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. In his comments, which he made at a New York Times conference on higher education last month, Mr. Alexander said that if colleges did not prioritize political diversity, they risked graduating a generation of overly squeamish adults.

“We don’t want a whole generation of students who have to go to a safe room when they read an offensive tweet,” he said. “They need to learn how to deal with that in our society.”

Note: The Tennessee General Assembly approved a “Campus Free Speech Act” last year (SB723) that’s not mentioned in the Times article. See previous post HERE.

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