SEN. GRASSLEY: Alumni Need to Step Up and Protect the First Amendment at Universities

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I often like to say the definition of a university is a place where controversy should run rampant.


The point of going to college is not for all students to come out thinking the same thing.


It’s for ideas to be challenged.


To weed out ideas we disagree with we need open debate, not to shut the conversation down.


Students of all stripes should be able to say what’s on their minds.


Free speech should not be partisan.


Everyone is hurt if ideas are not frankly discussed by the next generation.


Thankfully, Iowa has recognized that reality.


This spring, Governor Reynolds signed a bill into law that helps codify free expression in Iowa’s public colleges.


It sometimes feels like D.C. can forget common sense on this.


But in Des Moines, the bill passed both chambers of the Iowa Legislature with just one single “no” vote.


But nationally, we’re heading in the wrong direction.


In just 2016, majorities of students were confident that the First Amendment was secure.


But it now looks like there has been a chilling effect on campus.


According to more recent polls, 80 percent of students now say they self-censor.


Hostility to freedom of expression is being heard loud-and-clear by students, but not by donors.


I’ve tried to highlight this overlooked group in the free speech debate.


Students and faculty are limited by the threat of getting “cancelled” on campus.


But donors have much more sway.


Unfortunately, freedom of speech does not seem to be on alumni’s minds.


A poll of donors to one college found the vast majority thought freedom of expression should be a priority on campus.


But only 20 percent said it was clear their alma mater protects speech in practice.


This is among donors who have already given despite these concerns.


That’s despite donations representing up to 19 percent of college budgets.


There are more examples than I can count of donors withholding contributions and making real, concrete change.


Donors have stopped speakers from being de-platformed and overrode the veto of the crowd.


It’s time to stop pretending alumni have no say.


Earlier this year, I joined the College Free Speech Caucus to try to reverse this trend.


I’m also a co-sponsor of the Campus Free Speech Resolution, which urges greater First Amendment protection in America’s universities.


But this is not a problem that can be solved by any bill in the Senate.


We need individual Americans to make their voices heard.


Ultimately, being a democracy means that we are able to listen to each other.


We ought to be able to respectfully talk about where we disagree, not sweep them under the rug and silence those who speak out.


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