- Following a year of costly, often violent political protests across college campuses, including at Evergreen State College, University of California, Berkeley and the University of Virginia, administrators are preparing for a potentially turbulent 2018 academic year, as they strive to balance campus free speech, student safety and rising security costs, particularly when it comes to inviting controversial speakers.
- Administrators told Politico that their institutions have taken proactive steps to handle conflict by upping security funding and training for campus police, creating opportunities for student dialogue and sessions on handling hate groups, and establishing requirements for notifying students and faculty that a controversial speaker may be coming to campus. Middlebury College in Vermont, for example, implemented an event review committee.
- Pressure to prioritize First Amendment rights with campus security comes at the same time polls show students are not as supportive of unrestricted free speech as before and fewer want controversial speakers on campus, reports Politico. Other education stakeholders, however, contend that banning speakers across the political spectrum prevents opportunities for students to learn how to engage in proper civil discourse.
In a survey of 1,250 undergraduates, a 2017 report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education shows sentiments around whether controversial speakers or topics should exist on college campuses is not clear cut, with 63% of liberal students and 45% of very conservative students saying campuses should not be exposed to intolerant ideas. However, Meanwhile, 46% of students surveyed said they recognize hate speech as a First Amendment right.
Another report entitled "Navigating the New Wave of Student Activism," shows 10% of incoming first-year college student respondents in 2015 said they would likely participate in a protest, while 69% said they would support policies to limit offensive speech on campus.
These data, coupled with a string of violent protests over the last few years, has put administrators in an uncomfortable position, as they try to instill civic culture and values in democratic dialogue while trying to avoid safety hazards and potentially exorbitant security costs. Protests also obviously put administrators in a precarious position, with those like former president of the University of Missouri, Tim Wolfe, forced to resign following campus unrest in 2015.
It's for these reasons administrators are being proactive in stepping up plans and procedures to handle emergencies before they happen, particularly as the college political climate remains unsteady, as Politico reports. In addition to confronting potential for protests head on, researchers from the University at Albany released a study of recommendations for higher education presidents and executives on how to respond to unrest more effectively, highlighting six key tasks:
+ creating an environment that facilitates collaboration during an incident.
+ creating teams to interpret the context of unrest.
+ fast response and targeted decision-making protocols.
+ keeping stakeholders updated on decisions carried out
+ choosing the right moment to shut-down the crisis.
+ documenting the event to enhance future safety and crisis response.