Op-Ed: Assault on Free Speech has Bred Antisemitism in our Colleges
By Rep. Joe D’Orsie (R-Manchester)

One important byproduct of the horrific terrorist attacks on Israel, at the hands of Hamas, has been the response from our nation’s universities. I don’t mean “important” in that we should listen to their message and consider it wise, it’s rather important solely because it’s making plain an ideology so rampant in our colleges that even deniers now can’t discount.

Radical, antisemitic statements have flowed out of our universities since Hamas, a terror organization hell-bent on destroying Jews and targeting women and children, invaded Israel now over two weeks ago. Since these initial, hate-filled, ignorant-of-fact-and-reality messages were heralded, the silence from college administrators and/or half-baked apologies coming from boards and provosts has been equally shocking.

This seemingly came from left field for many. It took a tragedy like the terrorist invasion of our ally, Israel, for the mainstream to fully comprehend it. The truth is that many of us knew the hearts and minds of many students and faculty who operate in this ill-advised bubble of “American Academia” were in the proximity of this kind of evil. For those who didn’t want to admit it or who didn’t want to think about it, well here it is in plain sight. And to be clear, these academics can and should be able to exercise their right to free speech and expression for a group and their acts that have sought to exterminate Jews, but this line of radical thinking is indicative of a collegiate environment that has historically stifled free speech, instead perpetuating a far-left echo chamber.

Higher Education has been spinning down this path for some time and I’d argue that free speech in our universities, or the lack thereof, is chiefly why we’re at this moment of choice. It’s true that some speech is protected, encouraged, and even coddled on our campuses, but certainly not all of it. Many colleges across our land have departments devoted to handling “bias.” You might ask: who determines bias? And you might wonder: “as biased as something may be, isn’t it still someone’s right to speak it?” These are legitimate questions indeed but ones that are too seldom being asked. These departments, referred to commonly as ‘bias reporting systems’ or ‘bias response teams,’ often police speech that is tangent to the progressive, collegiate status quo.

The bastions of free thought and expression. The institutions where worldviews are formed in young people, flourishing debate and discussion occurs, and thoughtful argument and discourse win the day. This might have described our campuses decades ago but sadly it does not now.

FIRE (The Foundation for Individual Rights & Expression) recently put out its 2024 free speech report, ranking colleges by a litany of free speech criteria. Our universities failed miserably. The report speaks not to an arena where ideas can circulate freely, but rather a vacuum where ideologues gravitate toward far-left dogma and all dissenters are shut out. My point is that this assault on free speech at our universities has produced something. It’s produced the kind of antisemitic response we’re seeing at places like Harvard, the worst scorer, by the way, on FIRE’s free speech survey. To say there’s not a correlation is to play the babe in the woods.

But there is good news to be had on two fronts.

1. The speech-quelling bias response teams housed in our liberal arts schools are being threatened by recent lawsuits, and 1st amendment advocates are winning. Of note, several recent court cases have affirmed this. In Speech First vs. Central Florida, The U.S. 11th circuit court of appeals found unanimously that UCF’s policies, like its BRT’s, suppressed and punished students’ free speech on campus. Similar cases from the Univ. of Michigan, the Univ. of Texas, and the Univ. of Houston serve as examples.

2. Generation Z has increasingly become cold to college. It’s presumably not because they’re concerned about their speech being chilled but it’s rather a much more utilitarian reaction. College has lost value. Its return on investment isn’t as great. For economic reasons more and more young people are avoiding college. Another study, showing that Gen Z is moving to the south is perhaps equally telling. The great cradle of American academic culture, the Northeast, is bleeding young people to the simpler, less woke world of the American South.

To summarize my thoughts is to say this: Decades of nurturing radicalism and stifling divergent views on campus has produced something. This product has recently been plainly displayed for all to see. Antisemitism, hate, violence, and a worldview that shrinks back from what our republic represents. But the institution may be beginning to reap what it’s sown. Lawsuits loom and enrollment continues to dwindle. What will be the fate of our American institutions? They may just need to reform or perish.

Representative Joe D’Orsie
47th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Greg Gross