Accuracy in Media

Vox’s coverage of President Donald Trump’s executive order on campus free speech ignores key factors affecting the free exchange of ideas on campus.

By ignoring the overwhelmingly liberal proportion of professors and administrators on campus relative to conservatives, Vox provides readers with a misleading understanding of America’s colleges and universities today.

Vox writer Zach Beauchamp claims that “there is no campus free speech crisis.

“Certainly, campuses are not perfect havens of free speech — it really is true that conservatives are underrepresented in campus political discussions — but a few problems do not warrant a major panic. Most of the conversation about campus censorship and free speech violations stemmed from a handful of high-profile incidents, inflated by right-wing campus watchdogs and breathless media coverage about the kids these days, in a country with thousands of college campuses and millions of college students …Certainly there are instances of political censorship on campuses. But the evidence that they are a major problem, one requiring presidential-level attention, is quite thin.”

Beauchamp cherry picks statistics about the variable of whether speakers are disinvited from campus and professors fired for “politically controversial speech,” yet he ignores data from sources like Cass Sunstein in Bloomberg who reports about “Mitchell Langbert, an associate professor of business at Brooklyn College, published a study of the political affiliations of faculty members at 51 of the 66 liberal-arts colleges ranked highest by U.S. News in 2017. The findings are eye-popping (even if they do not come as a great surprise to many people in academia).”

As a graduate of Harvard University, I personally experienced administrators and professors being inhospitable to conservative ideas and historical figures, creating an uncomfortable learning environment that I was hesitant to address because my grades and enrollment were at stake. Beauchamp’s article explores none of these types of experiences in his analysis. He does not include voices from the growing Heterodox Academy, a consortium of academics who have identified this imbalance and its effects, including that “many fear losing the esteem of, or being ostracized by, one’s peers for saying the “wrong” thing (a risk which is more pronounced in highly-homogenous environments). Even in the absence of formal sanctions, social and professional isolation can make academic life extremely difficult and unpleasant — and many reasonably prefer to self-censor rather than risk it. This is a significant concern among students, faculty, and administrators.”

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