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Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debateby Greg Lukianoff
Synopses & Reviews
For over a generation, shocking cases of censorship at Americas colleges and universities have taught students the wrong lessons about living in a free society. Drawing on a decade of experience battling for freedom of speech on campus, First Amendment lawyer Greg Lukianoff reveals how higher education fails to teach students to become critical thinkers: by stifling open debate, our campuses are supercharging ideological divisions, promoting groupthink, and encouraging an unscholarly certainty about complex issues.
Lukianoff walks readers through the life of a modern-day college student, from orientation to the end of freshman year. Through this lens, he describes startling violations of free speech rights: a student in Indiana punished for publicly reading a book, a student in Georgia expelled for a pro-environment collage he posted on Facebook, students at Yale banned from putting an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote on a T shirt, and students across the country corralled into tiny free speech zones” when they wanted to express their views.
But Lukianoff goes further, demonstrating how this culture of censorship is bleeding into the larger society. As he explores public controversies involving Juan Williams, Rush Limbaugh, Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, Larry Summers—even Dave Barry and Jon Stewart—Lukianoff paints a stark picture of our ability as a nation to discuss important issues rationally. Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate illuminates how intolerance for dissent and debate on todays campus threatens the freedom of every citizen and makes us all just a little bit dumber.
"While more than once using the phrase 'PC run amok,' and spending a great deal of time on left-liberal bias among academics, first-time author Lukianoff is at pains to separate his book from the garden-variety conservative salvo against higher education. As president of the nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, he casts a purposefully wide net over American academe. From a Georgia arts professor censored for parodying the Confederate Stars and Bars, to a Pennsylvania student barred from advocating for gun rights, the cases taken on by FIRE variously appeal to left, right, or hardly anyone at all, as with Colorado professor Ward Churchill, known for supposedly declaring 9/11's victims 'little Eichmanns.' Churchill's appearance sets the seal on Lukianoff's First Amendment absolutism, but this legalistic principle, however crucial to his argument, is less central to it than the cause of maintaining free inquiry as higher education's pre-eminent value. This position drives unabashed criticism — which may split political opinion far more violently than his principled stand on controversial speech — of freshman orientation programs focused on specific issues like social justice and privilege. Lukianoff's stirring take on higher education as an unrestricted intellectual journey remains free of the bile common to culture war screeds, though some readers may wish he had made his point less repetitiously." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
In the 1980s and 90s universities across the country went to war with free speech and free thought by imposing politically correct speech codes. Despite public outcry against college censorship and unambiguous legal defeats for speech codes, thirty years later it is apparent that free speech lost and the negative consequences of this defeat pervade our society.
Unlearning Liberty not only recounts dozens of shocking examples of censorship on campus, including students and faculty members punished for things as harmless as publicly reading a book, protesting a parking garage on Facebook, and placing a pop culture quote on ones office door, it also explains why the startling intolerance for dissent on campus harms us all. While some have accepted repressive political correctness as a relatively benign component of the college experience, it is having a toxic effect on students, the quality of higher education, and our societys inclination and ability to talk through serious political and social issues.
Constitutional lawyer Greg Lukianoff walks readers through the life of a modern-day student, from high school to the last day of their first semester, to show how students are being systemically miseducated about what it means to live in a free society. Lukianoff demonstrates how campus censorship, courts, and bureaucracies, are teaching students by word and example to be uncritical thinkers, and are cultivating an unscholarly certainty about complex, sophisticated issues. These illiberal lessons are bleeding out into society and help explain the paradox of how, when more Americans are college educated than ever, national discourse seems to be at an all-time low.
About the Author
Greg Lukianoff is an attorney and president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. His writings on campus free speech have appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe, in addition to dozens of other publications. A regular columnist for the Huffington Post, he has frequently appeared on television, including CBS Evening News and Stossel. He received the 2008 Playboy Foundation Freedom of Expression Award and the 2010 Ford Hall Forums Louis P. and Evelyn Smith First Amendment Award on behalf of FIRE. Lukianoff is a graduate of American University and Stanford Law School.
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