| Freedom of Expression

‘Cancel culture’ explodes with online learning

WASHINGTON EXAMINER   |  September 8, 2021 by Paul Bedard

The vast expansion of online learning forced by the coronavirus crisis has led to a high-tech crackdown on free speech by teachers and students, according to a groundbreaking review of America’s new classrooms.

The report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that the rapid shift to Zoom-type learning preceded a new wave of bullying by participants who cut and paste comments they didn’t like into social media posts, in some cases leading to firings, bullying, and shaming.

In one noted case, a Georgetown University professor was fired for stating that black students tend to cluster near the bottom of her classes. In another, the report said that “Marquette University even threatened to rescind an admissions offer to a student because she posted a video to TikTok expressing support for President Trump.”

The report, shared with Secrets prior to its release later today, warned that free speech is being threatened by the new and selective social media shaming that comes with online learning.

“The lifeblood of the liberal arts is debate, dialectic, inquiry, and challenge,” said Michael Poliakoff, the president of ACTA, a nonprofit organization that promotes academic freedom.

“In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that has threatened the strength and even the survival of so many institutions, online education moved to the fore. We have seen that it can bless us with access to a vibrant exchange of ideas, but it also has the potential to eliminate the opportunity for growth of character and intellect,” he told us.

Over 44 pages, the report showed examples of the “canceling” of speech on campus and the muting of those who don’t want to be shamed for speaking their mind.

“Why is the crisis getting worse? Simple: Self-censorship is a perfectly reasonable reaction when students and faculty are being investigated, harassed, or punished for their speech,” it said in comparing the reactions to a “public stoning.”

What’s more, the report found that rules put in place to protect free speech are being junked because institutions are too afraid that their reputation might be hurt by a rogue comment.

The group also provided survey data to accompany its guide, titled “Building a Culture of Free Expression in the Online Classroom”:

  • Students and faculty self-censor to avoid being investigated for their speech, punished by their institution, or targeted for cancellation on social media.
  • 61% of college students refrain from expressing opinions on political issues because of the concern that a professor may disagree with them, while 85% stop themselves to avoid offending other students.
  • 63% of students agree that the climate on their campus deters students from expressing themselves, and only 25% of students feel comfortable discussing controversial topics with their classmates.
  • Almost 80% of first-year students say it is a strength of theirs to see the world from someone else’s perspective, and 90% of these students also said they pride themselves on having the ability to cooperate and work well with a diverse group of people.

The report included several recommendations, mostly urging institutions to back off quick judgment of social media posts and criticisms.

“In ‘normal’ times,” concluded the report, “it takes close attention and dedication by faculty and college leaders to teach and model the core values of higher education: that disagreement is acceptable, that we all learn from those who hold views different from our own, and that the best response to offensive or unacceptable views is argumentation, not censorship or ‘canceling.’ With the shift to remote learning during the pandemic, this has become increasingly challenging for faculty and university leaders.”

This article originally appeared here.


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