Does the Attorney General Care When Republicans Squelch Expression?

Jeff Sessions gives another speech denouncing campuses for failing to permit all viewpoints to be heard. When it comes to recent incident at University of Kansas, he's not talking.

July 25, 2018
Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday returned to the issue of free expression on campus.

In a speech at Turning Point USA's High School Leadership Summit, he said, "Freedom of thought and speech on the American campus are under attack. Of all places, the college campus should be where debate and discussion should be appreciated and honored. But nowhere has there been more arbitrary and capricious restrictions on free speech than in supposedly educational institutions."

He went on to discuss incidents at Middlebury College, the College of William & Mary and others. He said that the First Amendment "is not a partisan issue." And he didn't just denounce incidents with speakers, but a range of other developments he sees on campus.

"Through 'trigger warnings' about 'microaggressions,' cry closets, 'safe spaces,' optional exams, therapy goats and grade inflation, too many schools are coddling our young people and actively preventing them from scrutinizing the validity of their beliefs. That is the exact opposite of what they are supposed to do," Sessions said. (For the record, while numerous reports document that grade inflation is rampant in higher education, we're less certain about how widespread therapy goats have become, although baby goats did replace therapy dogs in a finals-week stress-relief program this year at the University of Maine.)

The most recent incident involving free expression on campus came this month at the University of Kansas. The university took down a piece of art (at left) that was displayed outside -- a U.S. flag with drawings on it. The university acted after Governor Jeff Colyer, a Republican, said, "The disrespectful display of a desecrated American flag on the KU campus is absolutely unacceptable. I demand that it be taken down immediately." Other Republican politicians also urged the removal of the flag art.

Numerous groups, including the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Warhol Foundation, have called for the university to restore the artwork.

Given the attorney general's concerns on campus free expression, Inside Higher Ed asked the Justice Department if Sessions would have anything to say about the University of Kansas.

The department's response: "DOJ declines to comment."


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