Newsletter: Is Free Speech Threatened on Campus?

Is Free Speech Threatened on Campus?

This week:

  • Protests on college campuses: When do student protests require intervention?
  • A closer look at what students would be comfortable saying on campus
  • Debates to help navigate the most complex questions on the Middle East
  • Your Sunday reading list



Over two hundred students have been arrested over recent weeks in response to protests related to the war in Israel and Gaza, and the momentum is anything but slowing down. Reports of antisemitism, Islamophobia, and harassment have increased dramatically. Students on both sides want to be heard— and we’re listening. This week, we wanted to examine whether free speech is being threatened on campuses.

Protests have spread to over twenty college campuses across the U.S., including Columbia, NYU, the University of Michigan, and the University of Texas, demanding various conditions such as divesting from companies doing business with Israel. Some colleges have moved their classes hybrid or remote for the rest of the spring semester in the name of public safety and the University of Southern California has canceled its commencement after prior controversy with denying their valedictorian and other speakers a chance to give a speech.

The Numbers Behind What’s Happening on Campuses Now:

  • According to a survey from FIRE, about 74% of liberal students said that shouting down a speaker is acceptable to some degree, whereas 58% of moderate students and 47% of conservative students said the same.
  • In addition, 56% of students expressed worry about damaging their reputation because of someone misunderstanding what they have said or done.
  • A report from the University of Chicago’s Chicago Project on Security and Threats found that 52% of Muslim college students and 56% of Jewish college students have felt in personal danger since October 7.
  • 70% of both Jewish and non-Jewish students say that their universities should do more to address anti-Jewish prejudice.

While this week’s debate was originally recorded and released some time ago under different circumstances and in less turbulent times, many of the core issues surrounding students’ free speech remain the same, and as relevant as ever. So, we revisit this earlier episode where four writers, educators, and First Amendment Law experts debated this issue with great care and consideration.

Should students be able to have their voices heard or suppressed? Are there other ways universities should respond to what’s happening? Listen to this debate now on YouTube, WNYC, and Apple Podcasts.




John McWhorter

Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University; Opinion Writer at The New York Times



Wendy Kaminer

Lawyer and Member of the Advisory Counsel at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE)



Shaun Harper

Founder and Executive Director of the USC Race and Equity Center; Provost Professor of Education and Business at the USC Rossier School of Education



Jason Stanley

Professor of Philosophy at Yale University



John Donvan

Host and Moderator-in-Chief



The Limits of What Students Would Say on Campuses



Debates For Campus Context

These four debates, from the U.S.’s relationship with Israel to having conversations in divided times, are essential guides for what’s happening in the culture today — listen now.


Is Anti-Zionism the New Anti-Semitism? – Released February 27, 2020

Arguing “Yes”: Bret Stephens, Opinion Columnist at The New York Times, and Einat Wilf, Former Member of the Israeli Parliament

Arguing “No”: Peter Beinart, Journalist and Author of “The Crisis of Zionism”, and Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights


Should The U.N. Admit Palestine as a Full Member State? — Released January 10, 2012

Arguing “Yes”: Mustafa Barghouthi, Former Palestinian National Authority Presidential Candidate, and Daniel Levy, Former Israeli Government Negotiator and Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation

Arguing “No”: Dore Gold, Former Israeli U.N. Ambassador and Advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Aaron David Miller, Vice President for New Initiatives at the Wilson Center and Former U.S. Mideast Negotiator


Should The U.S. Step Back From Its Relationship With Israel? — Released February 9, 2010

Arguing “Yes”: Roger Cohen, Columnist at The New York Times, and Rashad Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University

Arguing “No”: Stuart Eizenstat, Chief White House Domestic Policy Adviser, and Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s Former Ambassador to the United States


Having Curious Conversations in Divided Times — Released November 24, 2023

Guest: Mónica Guzmán, Author of “How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times” and Senior Fellow for Public Practice at Braver Angels




Is Joe Biden on the side of Iran or Israel?

Nile Gardiner | April 17, 2024

The Telegraph

Watch Nile’s debate on whether the United Nations is obsolete


I’m a Columbia Professor. The Protests on My Campus Are Not Justice.

John McWhorter | April 23, 2024

The New York Times

Watch John’s debates on identity politics and whether free speech is threatened on campuses


Columbia Students Aren’t Protesting. They’re Having a Temper Tantrum.

Beth Akers and Joe Pitts | April 23, 2024


Watch Beth’s debate on whether America should forgive student debt


Protesting against slaughter – as students in the US are doing – isn’t antisemitism

Robert Reich | April 23, 2024

The Guardian

Watch Robert’s debate on whether it’s time to redistribute the wealth

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