How colleges should balance free speech and controversial speakers

Apr 21, 2023, 12:00 PM | Updated: Apr 25, 2023, 8:19 pm

university of utah stadium and campus...

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Free speech on college campuses is a hot topic after Utah Sen. Mike Lee spoke against students who recently protested against a speaker at Stanford Law School. 

Stanford students protested a talk from federal Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan. Duncan wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal following his experience.

Leah Murray, director of the Walker Institute at Weber State University, spoke to KSL at Night hosts Taylor Morgan and Maura Carabello spoke about how college students should exercise free speech on campus. 

Carabello starts the conversation by asking why it’s hard to have controversial speakers present at schools and universities. 

“The whole mood right now with our college students is a feisty, protesting, mood,” Murray replied.

Murray said that the way college students speak their minds now is much different than when she attended college in the 90s.

“I think from a university point of view, they’re worried, campus never wants to have any kind of protest or any kind of controversy because they can go south real quick,” Murray said to Morgan when he expressed how he is pro free speech on college campuses. “I agree with you completely, this is a free marketplace of ideas.”

She goes on to say that conservative students may feel isolated on campus, thus, as long as everyone feels welcome to speak their mind, free speech is beneficial. 

Carabello then poses the question of whether free speech should be permitted if others are being interrupted and “shouted down.”

Murray said that one-way campuses could mitigate speakers being shouted down would be by anticipating a protest and preparing accordingly. 

“I would never land on disinviting, don’t be afraid of the controversy,” Murray said. 

Carabello closes the conversation by stating that when discussing topics like free speech on college campuses, a simple tweet doesn’t suffice as a discussion surrounding the issue. That said, a discussion should be had. 

Listen to the full episode, below.  

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How colleges should balance free speech and controversial speakers