Catching FIRE

October 25, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Why do so few 18-24 year olds vote?

Greg Lukianoff, in a Times op-ed today (here), has the answer:  campus speech codes. I am not making this up.
Colleges and universities are supposed to be bastions of unbridled inquiry and expression, but they probably do as much to repress free speech as any other institution in young people’s lives. In doing so, they discourage civic engagement at a time when debates over deficits and taxes should make young people pay more attention, not less.
Lukianoff, who works at FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) offers not one shred of evidence for this assertion.

It’s true that younger people have lower rates of voting. 

But college students have very high rates of voting (high by US standards).  This survey found that in 2004, about 77% of college students voted (81% of women, 72% of men).  That’s 30 points higher than their non-college age-mates who are unfettered by oppressive campus speech codes.   It’s also higher than the rate for any other age group. 

FIRE can argue against speech codes as a matter of principle.  That’s a moral question.  FIRE can try to make its case on  Constitutional grounds.  That’s a legal question, and a bit thornier, especially with private schools, since the First Amendment protects us only from governmental infringement on free speech.

But if FIRE is going to argue that these codes have some general effect on students’ political thought or behavior, that’s an empirical question, and FIRE ought to offer some evidence in support of that claim. They do not, presumably because they have none.

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