Silenced on campus

The college Muzzles
By HARVEY SILVERGLATE  |  June 26, 2013


If freedom of speech, the right to associate with whomever one might wish, and other constitutionally protected liberties had a home, you would think that it would be on the nation's college campuses. But that assumption, sad to say, is dead wrong. As this list drawn from campuses around New England demonstrates, liberty — as defined by the American constitutional tradition — is under constant assault.


The University of Southern Maine is a public university located in the heart of what's reputed to be one of the American states that is most protective of the liberty and independence of its citizens — "hearty New England stock" is the image commonly invoked. So it comes as a surprise that USM President Theodora Kalikow has issued a decree banning the use of any tobacco product anywhere on the Portland campus, including outdoors where inhalation of second-hand smoke by non-smokers is not an issue.

To read the "University of Southern Maine Tobacco-Free Campus Policy" is to discover its anti-liberty (disguised as pro-health) ideological roots in the opening Preamble: A "tobacco-free campus shall be established" not only "to reduce harm from tobacco use and secondhand smoke," but also to "promote a campus culture of wellness." Put another way, students and faculty members and staff employees are being ordered to stop smoking not only for their own good, but in order to force them to join in the university president's vision of a glorious new nanny state concept: "Wellness."

There is one other hint on the university's website for why the president took this step of radical intervention in the private lives of students and staff. The "culture of wellness" talked about is described as a "value statement" meant to "promote a cultural shift toward healthier living." There is no discussion, however, of whether an institution supposedly dedicated to academic freedom, and freedom of speech and thought, should "promote a cultural shift" by executive fiat rather than by rational persuasion.

We can only hope that President Kalikow discovers a truth that college presidents should be teaching but that, alas, seem instead to need to learn: In a university community, personal philosophies such as "wellness" may be promoted by intellectual persuasion, but not by fiat. This is, at bottom, what free speech and free thought are all about.

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