Bookmark this page on your mobile

QR Code image

What is this?

Daily Court Reporter - News Free speech on college campuses is about education, not legislation


Free speech on college campuses is about education, not legislation

Lata Nott, Freedom Forum Institute

Recently, my First Amendment Center (FAC) colleague, Ken Paulson, testified at a Congressional hearing on First Amendment rights on college campuses.

Paulson, president of the FAC, also serves as dean of the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University and is the former editor-in-chief of USA TODAY.

Below are excerpts from Paulson's testimony, in which he made the case that on most U.S. campuses, the oft-cited collegiate conflict over free speech rights is not happening:

"My move into academia was actually a late career decision. My years in American journalism were gratifying and this felt like the opportunity to get back. Being on a campus over the past five years has been both rewarding and eye-opening.

"I have to admit I initially looked at our students as a generation similar to my own. Externally we certainly were — dirty blue jeans worn daily. I struggled to stay alert during early morning classes and [tried] every possible combination of hairstyle and facial hair. But I quickly discovered this is an entirely new generation. They're the Google generation. Young people for whom answers have always been milliseconds away. They're amazing multitaskers, but there's a drawback to the 'Google-it' culture.

"If you can always access information, you don't have to memorize it or even think deeply about it. That's particularly the case with America's most fundamental freedoms. To be clear, I deeply admire the work of watchdog organizations like the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education, who through a combination of watchfulness, litigation and publicity shine a light on college campuses where administrators and sometimes students pay lip service to freedom of speech. The work they do is invaluable.

"But I also must tell you that when I stories about students shouting down speakers or college administrators engaging in heavy-handed tactics, I don't see my own campus. Seventy percent of the students at Middle Tennessee State University are the first in their families to attend college. Their concerns are paying for school, staying in school and making good enough grades to get a job when they leave. That's a dynamic you will find at universities all over America.

"As part of my First Amendment work, I traveled on average to maybe a dozen campuses a year for the past 20 years and I honestly don't believe that there's an epidemic of suppression or intolerance in the nation's universities. I do see some high-profile instances where college administrators and students are willing to bend free-speech principles to prevent hurt feelings or ideological conflict. Somewhere over the past two decades, the land of the free has become the home of the easily offended.

"There are some who see free-speech limitations and ask for Congress to do something. But with all due respect, this is not about legislation. This is about education. You can't shout down a speaker if you truly understand how diversity of opinions have bolstered our democracy. You can't censor students or their media if you understand what Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the first generation of Americans meant by freedom of the press. You can't try to zone protests off-campus if you truly appreciate the value of petition and assembly.

"But too many of our students and sadly, their parents and grandparents, don't truly understand these core American principles. The First Amendment Center survey showed that a full third of Americans cannot name a single freedom in the First Amendment and only 2 percent can name all five. I won't put you on the spot this morning.

"Having the right to say whatever we want does us no good if no one is willing to listen. The most American of values are in the First Amendment. It's not a coincidence that the most vibrant, ambitious, strongest, most dynamic country in the history of the planet is also the most free."

Paulson told the committee that any and all who influence student lives at any point in their academic careers "have two overriding obligations" — developing great professionals and "to graduate great citizens who understand what this nation is all about."

"America is depending upon us," he said.

Lata Nott is executive director of the First Amendment Center of the Freedom Forum Institute. Contact her via email at, or follow her on Twitter at @LataNott.

Ken Paulson is president of the Freedom Forum Institute's First Amendment Center and dean of the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University.

Date Published: October 19, 2018


Freedom Forum Institute


StarKist Co. agrees to plead guilty for price fixing

StarKist Co. has agreed to plead guilty for its role in a conspiracy to fix prices of packaged seafood sold in the United States, the Department of Justice announced recently.

Lawyer suspended for plagiarizing, having sex with client

The Ohio Supreme Court recently suspended a Columbus lawyer for two years, with six months stayed, for misconduct that included lying to his client about her legal matters and having consensual sex with the client while the cases were pending.

Man sentenced to 5 years for buying gun for convicted felon who killed police officers

Gerald A. Lawson III, 31, of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, was sentenced in U.S. District Court to 60 months in prison for acting as a straw purchaser for Quentin L. Smith, a convicted felon who shot and killed two Westerville Police Officers on February 10, 2018.

8 home security hacks recommended by police

(BPT) Did you know that many police departments have a community affairs officer whose primary goal is to build a strong working relationship with the community? That means you have access to a trained safety expert who wants to give you ideas to keep your home and neighborhood safe.

Human trafficking survivor, treatment court graduates discuss dark details of addiction

People with different backgrounds from different parts of the state who are bound by their criminal struggles with substance addiction came together to share their battles and triumphs during the 14th annual Ohio Supreme Court Specialized Dockets Conference.

Ohio slips further in latest Tax Foundation report

The structure of Ohio's tax system ranked poorly in a recent report from the Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

The U.S. Attorney's Office filed highest number of narcotics and violent crime indictments since at least 2005

Under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Department of Justice charged the largest number of violent crime and firearm defendants in its history in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018.

How to grow your 529 plan as your child grows: baby - toddler

Along with our age-based investment options, Ohio’s 529 Plan, CollegeAdvantage, offers age-based savings strategies for parents who want to select their own 529 investment options. No matter how old your child is, Ohio’s 529 Plan has guidance on what to do at this current stage of their life. It’s never too early and never too late to save for their higher education. In this first article of a six-part series, Ohio’s 529 Plan shares recommendations on what steps to take to build a 529 college savings account from when your child is a baby or toddler.

Health care CEO pleads guilty to $150 million health care fraud scheme involving harmful injections and unnecessary prescription of millions of opioids

A health care CEO pleaded guilty recently to a superseding indictment as part of an investigation into a $300 million health care fraud scheme that involved the distribution of over 6.6 million dosage units of controlled substances and the administration of medically unnecessary injections that resulted in patient harm.

Ohio ranks 9th in the nation in aerospace manufacturing

With a long, significant history in the field is should be of no surprise that Ohio is ranked among the top 10 states for aerospace manufacturing attractiveness.

Ohio State spinoff company targeting China for its robotics technologies

An Ohio technology company that manufactures a gearing system for robotics and other applications continues to make waves in its target market: China.

A no-pain gain to fight hypertension: UT research finds way to mimic exercise’s blood pressure lowering effects

Couch potatoes rejoice — there might be a way to get the blood pressure lowering benefits of exercise in pill form.

Justice, Treasury, and State Departments Announce Coordinated Enforcement Efforts Against Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion

The United States of America, through its Departments of Justice, Treasury, and State announced today a series of measures to target and dismantle the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG) – one of the largest, most dangerous drug cartels currently operating in Mexico. These measures include the unsealing of 15 indictments, the State Department’s approval of large rewards, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designations, and the establishment of a citizen tip-line.

Man indicted for robbing five banks in August and September

A Cleveland man was indicted for robbing five banks in August and September.

Convicted felon sentenced to 52 months in prison for illegal gun possession

Thurston Lewis Goodjohn, 34, of Springfield, was sentenced in U.S. District Court to 52 months in prison for illegally possessing a firearm.

New ABA tool offers lawyers, health practitioners guidelines to create improved advance directives

The research on advance care planning suggests that people talk to their lawyers and doctors about advance directives, however the two professions see the planning through a different lens. A new guide, “Advance Directives: Counseling Guide for Lawyers,” by the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging, is designed to assist lawyers, doctors and those in the medical profession, in thoroughly assessing the needs of a person in the hope that the end-of-life health decisions are understood and effective.

UD comeback falls short at San Diego in 36-34 loss

In a battle that went right down to the final minute, the University of Dayton Flyers had a comeback fall just short, with San Diego edging UD 36-34.

Attorney General DeWine offers charitable giving tips after Hurricane Michael

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine recently offered giving tips to Ohioans who want to help those affected by Hurricane Michael.

Attorney suspended after federal fraud conviction

The Ohio Supreme Court recently indefinitely suspended a Steubenville attorney convicted of a federal felony for his role in fraudulently obtaining $140 million in federal contracts targeted to businesses owned by disabled veterans and the economically disadvantaged.

BWC reports 7 recent fraud-related convictions

Six Ohioans and a Florida resident owing the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) more than $450,000 in back premiums and restitution were convicted on fraud or fraud-related charges in September.