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Debunking Free Speech Threats in US Universities

Aurora Brief Reviews No. 07 April 25 2019

April 2019


PEN America, the largest member of the international PEN network, has published its “Chasm in the Classroom” report on “Campus free speech in a divided America”. It details an array of free speech infringements of campus from authorities or individuals. It claims to show that the Trump administration assertion that free speech infringements on Campus come mainly/only from the left has no firm basis in facts.
But the PEN America report itself is hardly as strong on facts as one would have hoped. No data on the balance between right-wing and left-wing infringements of free speech – although it does show the total number of incidents has been rising from 194 in 2015 through 257 in 2017 to 280 in 2018.
Where the report does show some quantitative data – on students feeling that hateful speech can justify a violent response – the authors are quick to point out that the sample is small and not random and that other studies show contrary results.
All in all a missed opportunity to strengthen the evidence base of hot debate, that shows signs of flaring up in European countries as well. The annexe with US state regulations on free speech safeguards on university campuses is useful and underpins comments that Trump´s executive order on Campus free speech adds nothing to existing state regulations.

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