Fighting for Free Speech on Campus

Tuesday, April 23, 2024 - We sit down with Greg Lukianoff, president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) and co-author of the bestselling book "The Coddling of the American Mind," as well as the new book, "The Canceling of the American Mind." Lukianoff shares his insights on the state of free speech on college campuses and examines the rise of cancel culture, the debate over the limits of free expression, and the potential double standards in how universities approach these issues. He emphasizes the importance of open inquiry, intellectual diversity, and the ability to challenge prevailing orthodoxies as essential components of a thriving university education. This episode is made with support from Ascendium Education Group and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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In this thought-provoking episode of Future U., we sit down with Greg Lukianoff, president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) and co-author of the bestselling book "The Coddling of the American Mind," as well as the new book, "The Canceling of the American Mind." Lukianoff shares his insights on the state of free speech on college campuses and examines the rise of cancel culture, the debate over the limits of free expression, and the potential double standards in how universities approach these issues. He argues that certain campus trends, such as "safetyism" and the suppression of viewpoint diversity, may be harming student mental health and resilience. He emphasizes the importance of open inquiry, intellectual diversity, and the ability to challenge prevailing orthodoxies as essential components of a thriving university education. This episode is made with support from Ascendium Education Group and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Key Moments

(0:00) - Intro

(3:53) - Free speech issues in higher education, particularly anti-Semitism and double standards

(8:30) - Free speech and academic freedom in higher education

(14:21) - Limitations of free speech on campus viewpoint diversity, and campus violence

(17:41) - Mental Health and Technology

(24:17) - Free Speech Challenges in Higher Ed

(30:39) - Free speech impacts admissions


Michael Horn:

Jeff, long before October 7th, there have been groups warning about the growing problems of cancel culture on college campuses and that free speech was under assault.

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah, Michael. And obviously those concerns have landed as the lead story in the mainstream media in recent months. And so today we're going to talk with one of the leaders of an organization advocating for individual rights and expression on campuses, not only about those headlines, but also about potential long-term solutions to free speech on campuses. That's ahead on this episode of Future U.


This episode is brought to you by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, working to eliminate race, ethnicity, and income as predictors of student success through innovation, data, and information, policy, and institutional transformation. This episode of Future U is sponsored by Ascendium Education Group, a nonprofit organization committed to helping learners from low income backgrounds reach their education and career goals. For more information visit

Jeff Selingo:

I'm Jeff Selingo.

Michael Horn:

And I'm Michael Horn.

Jeff Selingo:

As we mentioned up top, concerns about free speech on college campuses and cancel culture have been around for a while. President Obama, for example, has spoken about this on numerous occasions, and that was before the pandemic, but the concerns have obviously been heightened since Hamas' attack on Israeli civilians set off this broader war in Gaza, Michael.

Michael Horn:

Yeah, that's right, Jeff. And yet before October 7th, many were still saying that the concerns over free speech were frankly overwrought. They would look at instances like the one that occurred at my alma mater, Yale in 2015, where the head of a residential college's wife was forced to stop teaching because she had said that students should be able to get this, decide for themselves which Halloween costumes they wore. And people sort of dismiss this as sort of side shows.

But our guest today has been collecting the data and I think convincingly showing that these limitations on free speech through de platforming or canceling, they aren't some sideshow. It's actually a real problem that's been growing for some time, he argues. These attempts, for example, grew by four times between 2013 and just 2014 alone, and then they've continued to grow since there. And what's more, these attempts to cancel talks and cancel free speech are actually successful at doing so 44% of the time, and that's six times higher than it was from 1998 to 2013. So we're seeing a lot of growth. And they've only continued to grow, Jeff, and we're only a few months into 2024, and we're on pace for having the most de platforming attempts in one year, more than even 2023, which was already a record high.

Jeff Selingo:

So Michael, I think you lay out the issue as it stands today, and I think today we really also want to focus on the solutions. And our guest, as you said, has been thinking about both. And our guest today is Greg Lukianoff, who is the president and CEO of FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. He's also the bestselling co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind with Jonathan Haidt and the new book, The Cancelling of the American Mind with Rikki Schlott. Greg, welcome to Future U.

Greg Lukianoff:

Thanks for having me.

Jeff Selingo:

So we sometimes start off these interviews by asking guests to tell us a little bit about their story. So why this cause of individual rights and expression on college campuses? How did you come to this idea of free speech as your cause?

Greg Lukianoff:

It goes all the way back to my childhood. I mean, my dad is a Russian refugee who grew up in Yugoslavia. My mother is ethnically Irish and grew up in Britain. And I grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of other first generation and immigrant kids, and a lot of them were fleeing either from communism in Vietnam or in China or fleeing from authoritarianism in South America. So I am one of these obnoxious first generation kids who do sometimes think that America can't quite see itself because it's too close to it. And I actually do think somehow being in immigrant communities or having parents who are immigrants, you can see some aspect of it that sometimes the people who have been there for five generations don't. And free speech is very precious and it's also very, very fragile. So I went to law school to do First Amendment work.

I took every single class Stanford Law School offered on First Amendment. When I ran out, I did six credits on censorship during the Tudor Dynasty because I'm that kind of nerd. I interned at the ACLU of Northern California and people thought I was a little crazy. I'm putting all my eggs in this basket of a job that's very hard to find. And when I was first approached by Harvey Silverglate who found me, which was pretty cool, Harvey Silverglate is a civil liberties lawyer. He's the co-founder of FIRE along with Alan Charles Kors, which was founded 25 years ago this year back in 1999. And he found me, and I wasn't really expecting necessarily to focus in higher ed, but I wanted to do First Amendment law. I care a lot about it in higher ed. And even when I started back in 2001, I was like, "It is easier to get in trouble on campus for what you say than I thought."

And one of the first things I learned was that Stanford, my school, had had a speech code produced by Tom Gray, one of my professors, that had been defeated in court just two years before I started, and nobody actually would talk about it. So it was weird realizing that there was this kind of like, "Yeah, maybe we had this," there was a little bit of embarrassment around it at least that essentially, "Oh well, we thought it was a good idea. And actually at the time was probably silly." And it was as if this had all passed and we were all, we've been foolish and young and censorship seemed nice. So, I hyper specialized in this and I loved FIRE from the beginning because it was the weirdest group of people who vote for different candidates.

Michael Horn:

The events of October 7th and the reactions on college campuses in the halls of Congress seem to have really boosted many people's awareness of these long smoldering issues that you work on and have documented extensively. In your mind, what was the real problem that the resignations of you Penn's and Harvard's presidents highlighted? Was this about them as individuals and their direct responses, or was it the broader issues in your view?

Greg Lukianoff:

I think it was the broader issues. I think that by the time they were being, when they were at that hearing being asked about anti-Semitism, which by the way, I am not Jewish, but I do think there's a major anti-Semitism problem, particularly in schools in California and at elite higher education. And that's from personal experience speaking on these campuses. But I think by the time they went into that hearing, unless they were going to open by saying, particularly for Penn and Harvard, "We haven't been great on free speech. We haven't been consistent on this and we're going to do better and we're going to start doing better by being serious about the free speech rights of pro-Palestinians, but we're not going to end there." Because the reason why they could never win that room over, certainly not Claudine Gay or McGill, is because Penn and Harvard aren't great on free speech. They had truly ludicrous cases over the past several years.

So their credibility was already shot by the time they walked into it. And I mean, I would've opened by talking about the problem of anti-Semitism. I would've opened by saying, "We have had double standards in the past." And then of course, when someone tries to get you to answer a yes or no question on a legal matter, I'd remind people, "Well, thankfully we're a common law country and a lot of legal questions don't actually have yes or no, and you're lucky for it." And I think they could have done, I mean, they easily could have done a much better job of actually answering that. Now, when it came to the step, McGill stepping down, it was hard for me to be too pessimistic about that one because two days after her testimony, which did integrate news, she actually made a statement saying, "We're going to reevaluate our whole policy of letting Supreme Court and First Amendment norms influence what our policies are at Penn."

So we're like, "Okay. Well that's the worst thing I've ever heard a university president say." So by the time she actually stepped down, I was like, "Okay, you've just announced that you might be the biggest threat to free speech I've seen of an elite president." So she stepped down. I couldn't be too pessimistic about it, partially because also the statement that the Alumni Association came up with was great. It was talking about a way to rejuvenate Penn, they called it Penn Forward that had all different ideas about trying to reintroduce the search for truth and to be a better, fairer place that provided free speech and active freedom for all. So that was a case where I'm kind of like, "Okay." I think honestly, her stepping down was necessary to actually, even though understandably people are given the circumstances on which she stepped down, that the fear very understandably could be that they're going to clamp down on free speech more.

There was some reason not to see it that simplistically, in my opinion. Now when a client came to Claudine Gay, I'm a little bit more complex on Claudine Gay. Claudine Gay had a little bit of a not great record on these cases as well. She was involved in the Roland Friar case, which was a professor who did this really in depth study. He was told not to publish these findings and all of this stuff. And next thing you know, he is being investigated for telling dirty jokes. I'm cynical enough at this point in my career that I don't think any of that is a coincidence. He was invited back after a couple of years of being investigated, and that was Claudine Gay's department. She did make some good, say good things about free speech and academic freedom. She did reach out to the Academic Freedom Alliance at Harvard, and so we had a little bit of hope for Claudine.

But then when all the plagiarism stuff came out, I honestly thought the Harvard really embarrassed itself on this. I mean, the percentage of things that she'd published that actually had some significant amount of plagiarism was treating like that's nothing. I was just shocked by it. So I think that by the time she stepped down, she needed to. We were a little bit worried that her stepping down would be an indication that Harvard needs to clamp down on free speech. There definitely is something to the fear that universities are trying to overcompensate for being bad on free speech by being bad on different people's free speech, which is not the solution as far as we're concerned. But I will say one good thing about the response to October 7th. After October 7th, and this is something that Bill Maher said when I did his show back in December, it's like a lot fewer people seem to be saying now that there's nothing wrong in higher education anymore.

Jeff Selingo:

Well, so Greg, let's talk a little bit then about the solutions, right? As you mentioned, you mentioned the vision statement for Penn moving forward, and you've supported that. By the way, we should acknowledge that Michael signed it as well. And it focuses on intellectual diversity and openness of thought, civil discourse, political and institutional neutrality, respect and tolerance. So what will it take in your view to actually get something like this meaningfully implemented? Because I think we all know that higher ed is big, institutions are huge. We have all these silos. We have all these departments and individual professors within departments and a lot of administration on top of that. It's not just like a president could say, "This is what we're going to do," and suddenly the next day it's implemented. So what's it going to take?

Greg Lukianoff:

I think a big part of it, frankly, is competition from smaller, cheaper, higher rigor alternatives. Because here's the thing, Harvard, I mean, okay, I've never fully recovered. I've never fully forgiven Stanford for how differently a certain class of people treated me after I graduated from their law school. It was suddenly like I was a legitimate person. Suddenly I was smart. Suddenly I was okay at some level. And there was something kind of gross about that. I think about my best friend growing up when I was in law school. I think he was still a mechanic, but eventually went back, got his PhD in math. And I think about all the really smart people I knew who wouldn't even think of applying to a school like Yale, Harvard, or Stanford, and how much sort of schools like that pat themselves on the back for really being the best and brightest.

But now at Harvard, something like 45% of the white students at Harvard are either legacy admins, they are kids of professors or athletes, and the average grade is a 3.8. And with all of those problems, it's harder to say with a straight face, "You really are graduating the best and brightest," particularly when you're producing students who ... One thing that's gotten back to me consistently is that they oftentimes create problems for the organizations that they're added to because sometimes they show up thinking it's their way or the highway. So what am I getting at? I think there's an opportunity for smaller, cheaper competitors to higher education that are actually better at telling you who the hardest working, most disciplined, best read, all the things that an employer really wants. And I think there's an openness to it now.

Michael Horn:

Before we switch into a different topic, I just want one more question on the free speech one, which is-

Greg Lukianoff:


Michael Horn:

... I'm just sort of curious where you see the limits of free expression, if at all. Penn's donors being upset about the Palestine Writes Literature Festival that went on, I think you said properly so, genocide, lynching call for that. Should that be permissible? Where's civility? Where's free speech? Is it really more about the location and not de platforming people? How do you think about those questions?

Greg Lukianoff:

Yeah. I'm the rude American that when I go abroad and I talk about the American First Amendment as a constitutional lawyer, you're supposed to go, "Oh, we're just fools over here and you guys have it all right." And I don't do that. I'm kind of like, "No, no, I actually think we have a lot of stuff right." And I think the First Amendment has a lot of sensible limitations in it. And I think one of the smartest things we do that other countries don't is we use categorical exceptions, not balancing tests, because balancing tests, you can see them in action as soon as the political attitudes shift. Suddenly, if you have something a little teeter-totter, all the weight can be on one side of it overnight, depending on the political passions of the moment. The categorical approach is a little bit more like choice architecture for judges basically saying, "Listen, if it doesn't fit inside this little box and there are strict rules for what fits inside this little box, you can't censor it."

So I think there is no such thing as a free speech absolutist, at least not the one that I've actually met. I am a viewpoint absolutist though, and I do think that people are entitled to their viewpoint and people should be allowed to play with ideas and engage in devil's advocacy even if they believe horrible things, partially because it's valuable to know if people think horrible things. And for that matter, if you're trying to actually produce ideas, you have to always be going, "Well, what if we're completely wrong? What if the exact opposite of what we believe is wrong? How would we even know that and how rich that area is?" So in terms of a lot of things we saw on campus, and we were just to be clear, very clear on this, after October 7th, yeah, we've defended a lot of pro-Palestinian students in the past couple of months, but we've also seen a lot of unprotected speech on campus in the last couple of months.

We've seen a lot of outright assault, which should be punished. It's not extreme speech. It's the opposite of speech violence. I always say that you need to be highly tolerant of opinion. You should have no tolerance for violence. And I mean, no, when it comes to the thing that happened at Berkeley just a week ago where they chased off an IDF speaker and smashed, overran where he was speaking. No, the students who engaged in violence, in my opinion at this point, should probably be expelled. And the ones who organized it who does the favor of having in all caps shut it down when they were organizing it should probably be punished as well. But so things that aren't protected, true threats aren't and shouldn't be protected, intimidation which basically means something similar to truth that's making someone feel like they're being targeted and are in danger, discriminatory harassment on campus, if severe persistent and pervasive singling out of someone on the basis of a protected characteristic, that can also be punished as well.

Now, that's a high bar, and it should be because otherwise you end up in a situation in which you can just go after opinions you don't like. So I think that the exceptions to free speech, as understood on campus, actually make a great deal of sense. But as to things like civility, I wish we taught that stuff. I mean, that's one of the things that I think is such a problem. And one thing that we did the research department FIRE couldn't be prouder of, and one of the things that we did was we compared some of the schools that had the worst rankings when it came to free speech on their campus, and we compared them whether or not they'd had more anti-Semitic incidents on campus. And we found that, yeah, actually a lot of these campuses that are bad for free speech are also bad for, they're high on anti-Semitism for at least according to the data that we could put together.

And that doesn't really surprise us. I think that one of the reasons why Dartmouth has actually weathered the storm pretty well, and even though Dartmouth did not do very well in the campus free speech ranking, Sian Beilock, the new president of Dartmouth, I have some real hope for. And one of the reasons why they didn't have a major blow up after October 7th is they started the hard work of having dialogue between pro-Palestinian, pro-Israel students almost like a year before the blow ups. And so by the time the actual blow up came, they weren't having the situation where administrators were giving this oversimplified idea of it's all just about activism, it's all just about oppressed versus oppressor. They already had done the hard work of being like, "Oh, actually, yeah, no, people who are not stupid or evil disagree on this one." And I think that some of the stuff that they're trying to do at Dartmouth gives me some hope.

Jeff Selingo:

So Greg, you wrote "The Coddling of the American Mind", of course, with Jonathan Haidt six years ago, and that brought some of the themes out that we've talked about today to the forefront of what people are thinking about. And you wrote that these issues aren't just bad for society, but they're actively harming students and making them less resilient. And now your book has been turned into a documentary. Congratulations, by the way.

Greg Lukianoff:

Thank you.

Jeff Selingo:

Can you talk a little bit more about what the solution is to this crisis of student mental health? Because we've talked a lot about this several times on this show and that you've written them in some ways, we prepared them in many ways to be depressed and anxious. So what's the solution here?

Greg Lukianoff:

And again, I don't think any of it's easy. I think that you have to start rethinking how we're doing almost everything to a degree. So there's two new books coming out, John's next book, Anxious Generation, which I think is excellent. But I'm a First Amendment lawyer, so I'm going to disagree with some of his solutions, and John knows this because that's what I do. But also, and talk about facial casting, talk about someone who you can just dismiss without actually reading her work because she's like, "Oh well, she's a right-winger. I shouldn't listen to her." Abigail Shrier's new book, Bad Therapy, is a revelation. It takes a lot of the themes in coddling and it really narrows in on, is that the right word, the sort of therapized environment in K through 12.

And both literally from therapists, but also from teachers who are sort of engaging in sort of therapy, which has this impact of getting them to ruminate on their feelings all the time. And I really do recommend it to everybody because it just is a really powerful and upsetting book.

So I think that we have to really rethink how we're teaching kids from the earliest ages up and try to focus on an empowerment model because we're unwittingly, and by the way, that's what I wanted to call the book. That's what we signed the contract. We signed the contract as disempowered because I've always hated the title Coddling of the American Mind because I want to have a more, and that's one of the reasons why Haidt and I, we're so adamant about things like increased independence, increased outside play. I'm a huge believer in the gap year, I have my feet, my kids are six and eight, and I'm going to fight for them not to go right to college. I think the self-efficacy I had from working as a cook before college made such a huge difference to the whole rest of my life. So I think we need to move away from a therapized model and more to an empowerment model.

Jeff Selingo:

I just wanted to follow up quickly on that because the other thing that's really changed it seems is technology. So what role does technology play in this story? Because as we know now, especially in campuses or in schools or anywhere, people will just whip out their smartphone and record a faculty member doing something or saying something or airing their griefs on social media. So it seems like a lot of the changes needed could be on shaky ground if all the well-meaning policies can just fall apart with one video that goes viral.

Greg Lukianoff:

Yeah, no, agreed. But when it comes to the idea of no phones in schools, you show up and you check your phone at the door and you don't get it back until the end of the day. I think that just makes perfect sense. I think about would you have been allowed to have a fax machine and a pay phone and all this stuff on your desk when we're in high school? Of course you wouldn't, that would be ridiculous.

So I think that that's a great solution there. I actually think that we're probably heading to a situation where there'll be better ways to, for better tools to help empower their parents to keep them off of social media. But the problem of people taking pictures and it going viral, part of that has to, can only be solved from cultural adjustments where essentially we have to reach a point where we're kind of like, "Yeah, you caught someone in a bad moment. This is not the end of the world."

And it's funny because Haidt and I agree on so many things, but one difference between the two of us is I am much more a bottom up reformer. I think that most changes, particularly when technology is involved, come from a process of adapting to the existence of the technology. He's more top down than I am. But I do think that there are lots of things that you can do reestablishing different parental norms, not having these things in schools, saying that you can't use your phone in a classroom, even in college, I think that's perfectly fair. But to some degree, we're also just going to have to adjust to the existence of these sometimes delightful and sometimes just awful machines.

Michael Horn:

Greg, huge thanks for shedding light on all these issues. Really appreciate the work you continue to do.

Greg Lukianoff:

Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Michael Horn:

You bet. And we'll be right back on Future U.

Jeff Selingo:

This episode of Future U is sponsored by Ascendium Education Group, a non-profit organization committed to helping learners from low-income backgrounds reach their education and career goals. Ascendium believes that system level change and a student centric approach are important for our nation's efforts to boost post-secondary education and workforce training opportunities. That's why their philanthropy aims to remove systemic barriers faced by these learners, specifically first-generation students, incarcerated adults, veterans, students of color, adult learners, and rural community members. For more information, visit

Michael Horn:

This episode is being brought to you by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Today's college students are more than just students. They're workers, parents, and caregivers, and neighbors. And colleges and universities need to change to meet their changing needs. Learn more about the Foundation's efforts to transform institutions to be more student centered at

Jeff Selingo:

Welcome back to Future U. And Michael, let's just jump right into this because this has been a burning topic, I know for you, probably for some time, but certainly top of mind since October 7th. We've talked about this a few times on the show as well, so we don't have to rehash too much. To me, a lot of this runs through the faculty, and that's really hard to address easily in many ways because of shared governance, tenure, and other things where the faculty have a lot of control over the workplace. So what do you think about what Greg had to say about answers to the challenges of free speech?

Michael Horn:

Yeah. Well, let me first harken back to something you said, Jeff, to me on a few episodes ago where you said some of this is also through administrators, and not faculty. And so to address that part of it, I think you do really need leadership at the president level and that president have a real commitment to free speech and a real commitment, frankly, to the rules that a lot of these places already have on the books about not being permitted to interrupt classes or shout down speakers or clear lines where protests are appropriate, which goes beyond just free speech when say it's convenient. And look, that might mean I think some tough conversations with students saying to some students, "Hey, you want to continue with this behavior, that's fine, but it's not going to be at this institution. You can leave, but we're staying true to the principles," and that's going to take real leadership, I think, number one.

Number two, to your point on the faculty, I think it's interesting for me from my vantage point at Harvard to see this because there's a real conversation going on if adjunct faculty like me are an answer to this or are we the problem? And I'll lay that out. Some people have pointed out at Harvard, "Look, there's all these centers that have grown up around different institutions. They have people who are teaching and leading them who are not tenured. They haven't gone through the discipline of the field and to really understand what academic freedom means and how to publish with rigorous ways." And so a lot of the problem stems from there. And then on the other side, obviously people are saying, "Look, we have all these discipline specific ideological traps that have been set up that you can't get tenure unless you go through them."

And so that's sort of the debate. Is it the tenured faculty that are the problem or is it the adjunct faculty that are the problem? Honestly, I'm not sure I have a clear answer on that one, Jeff. I think it's an interesting debate, and it's also one that I suspect might be more relevant to those rejective or selective higher ed institutions and perhaps less so as you go out the rungs of higher ed and serving the bulk of students. But I don't know that, so that's a question I have.

And then I guess the last thought I have is to me, Greg's most interesting answer perhaps was that he sees the real solution being in the form of new, less expensive colleges or faster and cheaper as our friend Ryan Craig would say. But I think his big point is you need entrance, right? A Stig Leschly or Preston Cooper would argue they would say, "We need disruptors to come in here that really shake up the status quo."

And look, as you know, I'm a trustee at Minerva University, I agree it's a heck of a lot easier to launch something new from the outside and do it differently than from the inside. It's hard to launch anything in higher ed, but once you do it it's easier to set up new rules. But at the same time, I think there has to be a both-and conversation here because the purpose of a Minerva University obviously is around great teaching and learning and preparing leaders who can work on globally significant problems, but Minerva's not going to be the place where we build new knowledge, where we create knowledge. And that's the role of a place like a Harvard, and I think it's vital for that. And so I think we need a both-and answer, even as I love the disruptive entrants coming in, but I don't think that there are enough to really solve this.

I guess last question though, that I've been thinking about, Jeff, on this, and it's something I wanted to ask Greg, but I slipped on it, so I'd love your take because you might have a more informed view because it's your area, which is this. Part of the reaction I had when I saw some students saying some of the frankly inane stuff that they've said since October 7th or see some of the crazy acts of de platforming at UC Berkeley and other places more recently was this, which is do these institutions have a more fundamental problem in their admission processes? Are they letting in people who may be fundamentally or illiberal in some respects and maybe not actually good fit for the mission of these institutions that should be devoted to uncovering truth and delving into what are sometimes difficult conversations? Is there an admissions component to this on the front end perhaps?

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah. An interesting question, Michael, but I think we have enough difficulty ensuring diversity in the broken college admissions process that we have. I'm not sure we want to add another element to it, plus I'm not sure how it wouldn't be just yet another part of the admissions process that could be gamed. Maybe institutions can ask an essay question on this front, but then applicants would write essays that they think the admissions offices want to hear rather than what they actually think. That said, Michael, fundamentally yes. I think the admissions process allows this because we have turned the admissions into one of these places. And when I say these places, I'm thinking of the highly rejected places, the Ivy Plus and other highly selective institutions, we've turned it into a game. So high school becomes the prep for that game, becomes the practice for that game.

And how does one practice for the competition that is senior year and getting into one of these institutions? By jumping through various hoops, by taking a specific sequence of classes across the disciplines, not because you want to or because they might challenge your thinking on an issue, but because you know that's what colleges want on the transcript. You also do it by filling your resume with clubs that show a diversity of activities again, rather than trying out things that challenge you. And then the college search becomes one where you can get in rather than one where colleges are perhaps a good fit for you. It's interesting, Michael, as part of the reporting for my new book, I've been talking to admissions offices and institutions outside the US and I'm really struck by how different the process is. Their goal, unlike in the US, isn't to generate as many applicants as possible.

And indeed, when I start asking these admissions deans outside the US these questions, they're kind of curious about why I'm acting like admissions is such a business where you try to get as many applicants at the top of the funnel just so you can reject most of them, and you really focus a lot of your business processes on yielding a very specific number. It really seems foreign to them, right? They focus on fit of the students. They basically say, "Here's who we are, and if you want to be part of this community, then apply. And if we think you're a good fit for this community, we'll take you. Don't apply if you don't like it. And we'll choose applicants who we think are a good fit for our missions and style of education."

In the end, I think we've made admissions to these places in the US that perhaps have the biggest problems on free speech so much of a game that these students really weren't challenged in high school to what they thought or if they did, they ignored it to focus on getting into the right college. Then when we get into the right college, we focus on that next set of hoop jumping, which is getting the right job. Undergraduate education to me is about thinking of the world in a new way and your place in it to challenge your values and ideals from high school and from where you grew up, think about what fits during college from where you grew up or from high school and what doesn't. I know that's what my undergraduate education did for me. And it's really a shame that many of these students, especially at these highly selective colleges, really aren't getting the chance to do that. They just come in feeling that they're fully formed adults.

One other thought, Michael. A few years ago, I moderated a panel on free speech at the Bowen Forum in New York. And the Bowen Forum at the time, they don't do it anymore, but it was named after Bill Bowen, who was the former president of Princeton. And you might recall that Bill Bowen gave the commencement address at Haverford a decade ago, and he gave that address after the Chancellor Berkeley who was supposed to give it declined an honorary degree after students at Haverford protested his selection because of what some of the stuff that he did at Berkeley. And after his speech was over, Bowen went off script and he called some of the protesters inclinations immature and arrogant. So it's interesting that this is not new, right? This has been going on in college campuses for several decades now.

But anyway, back to the Bowen Forum in New York, because on my panel there was Marvin Krislov who's the president of Pace University in New York, and he previously was president of Oberlin, where he said he faced a lot of protests and he said it wasn't the case at Pace. And as he said, "My students at Pace, they don't have enough time to protest, right? They are focused on their studies and when they're on campus and then they have families and jobs that they're focused on." Perhaps Michael, as I think about this, The Economist recently noted that if elite universities work their students harder, then they would have less time and energy to fight battles over campus speech. I don't know what you think about that.

Michael Horn:

Well, first, everything you said before is making me more and more excited to read your next book, so I'm looking forward to you writing it so we can all read it. But I guess that last thought is a really intriguing place, I think, to leave this conversation perhaps, and maybe there are two interpretations from that. One, the workload we know at colleges and universities has fallen precipitously over the last several decades. That's from reported studies and so forth. So that would add ammunition perhaps to what you're saying.

And second, maybe when you're at a place with resources that creates a privilege, you have the time for this stuff, but when it's about making ends meet or you're perhaps lower down on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, you're thinking more about the things that directly impact you and your family and your immediate community, and maybe not all this other stuff. So I don't know, but I think it's an intriguing point. And let's wrap it there and we'll just say thanks again to Greg Lukianoff of FIRE for joining us. And thank you all for tuning in once again to Future U.

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