What’s Killing Academic Freedom & Free Speech?

Pamela Denise Long
5 min readApr 13

Hint: DEI is part of the problem

Photo Credit: Eskay Lim

Last week, at San Francisco State University, collegiate women’s athlete Riley Gaines became the latest speaker to be targeted by social justice efforts to moderate free speech on college campuses. During an appearance around the propriety of ‘trans-athletes’ in women’s sports, protestors greeted the accomplished University of Kentucky swimmer with a shout down about ‘bigotry’ and accusations of her being an opponent to ‘human rights.’

Notably, Gaines had previously risen to prominence because of her prowess as a freestyle swimmer and her public revelations around the NCAA’s heavy-handed processes to install biological male Lia Thomas onto the University of Pennsylvania women’s swim team.

Coincidentally, during another on-campus speech, Trump-appointed 5th Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan recently faced a public shaming by Stanford law students.

But these free speech issues are not confined to California!

Indeed, resolving the tensions between social responsibility and academic freedom is a challenge facing colleges and universities at large. But rather than being equipped to solve the problem, free speech absolutists and advocates for diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) cling to a battle between rigid ideologies and, thus, academic freedom is jeopardized.

Words can never hurt you.

College is supposed to be a place where students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to explore ideas, rigorously evaluate the values that guide their personal and professional lives and embrace information to inform their impact on the university itself. But lack of decency causes both the current versions of free speech absolutism and DEI to get in the way of meeting the primary mission of education: to “produce and disseminate knowledge.”

As a descendant of U.S. slaves, I cherish the first amendment right to free speech and protest. I also believe academic freedom and exercise of free speech require pre-assessment of potential impacts, the inconvenience of social responsibility, and the burdens of historical context, unless one wants to be irresponsible.

It’s an inconvenient truth that all free speech has social impact, and, at the same…

Pamela Denise Long

Justice happens through you. -Denise Opinions Mine. All Posts Copyright 2023 Pamela Denise Long. All rights reserved. Twitter: @PDeniseLong