Lawrence Reed of FEE Discusses Freedom of Speech, Political Correctness on College Campuses


The intersection of free speech and political correctness has been in the news a lot recently, with college campuses across the US and beyond grappling with how to deal with the rise of an increasingly militant wave of leftist student activists. Biology professor Bret Weinstein’s recent experience with a PC mob at Evergreen State College became a national news story, highlighting an alarming tendency by far-left student activists to seek to eradicate opposing viewpoints.

Lawrence Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), recently had his own brush with militant campus activists during a seemingly non-controversial lecture entitled: “Learning the Lessons of Ancient Rome.” Mere minutes into the lecture, however, it became clear that there was a small but determined minority hellbent on disrupting the event. Reed, who has a Master’s degree in History, was discussing the details of Roman infrastructure when the onslaught began.

“I was going into some detail about how incredibly immense the Roman Empire was, in both its size and achievement, and I said the Roman road building campaign that put roads down as far as Egypt and Great Britain was so substantial that it would not be eclipsed until the 1950s, and at that point one student just blurted out ‘that’s wrong. The Mayans built more roads.’ And I said ‘The Mayans? And I knew enough Mayan history to be able to say that the entire Mayan empire could be fit into half of the Roman province of Egypt. Their road building was perhaps impressive on some scale but it did not come anywhere near to what the Romans did. But he continued to object and said that his professors had researched this, so he was suggesting that he got that information from his professors.”

“I analyzed this afterwards in my own mind and at the time I couldn’t understand why he would be making such a false point, but I think it’s because the Mayans are thought of in leftist orthodoxy as indigenous native peoples who were victimized by white Europeans so we have to elevate them to some kind of special status. and the white Europeans have to be condemned without any hesitation. Romans are white Europeans so we can’t say anything good about them. I think that’s the mentality that was behind it which is political correctness to an extreme…these campus far-left progressive students are so easily offended that their very reaction becomes offensive.”

Reed faults complacent university administrators for allowing a wave of militant PC activists to take over many college campuses, often threatening free speech in the process.

“The reaction of so many administrations is to cower in front of these thugs. Look at Evergreen…he [college president George Bridges] did give in and say we’ll have mandatory cultural retraining for all faculty and police…Many of them will probably get the first real education of their lives when they go out into the job market and realize that they’re going to be unemployed or underemployed if they don’t change their behavior. I shudder to think what some of these kids are going to discover in later life when they face reality, this is a bubble on these campuses where they think that they can get away with almost anything, and have a completely distorted view of the real world.”

He also notes that left-wing college and university faculty are increasingly viewing their campuses more and more as a forum for ideological activism:

“I’m convinced that most of this is coming not from the homes where the students have come from…I think they get this once they’re at college from a substantial and perhaps even growing number of far-left progressive professors who are the high priests of this whole movement, and so if we want to fix it, universities have got to stop hiring these kinds of people and they’ve got to commit themselves to some real ideological diversity on campus.”

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