As a college professor, not a week goes by that I don’t hear from frustrated students who feel they cannot speak freely. It’s not just my students, of course; a 2021 survey found that over 80 percent of American college students self-censor. But it’s not only their fellow students who are making students feel ashamed to voice their views; the data shows that Gen Zers—those born after 1996—are less censorious than their millennial elders. Moreover, there’s evidence to suggest that some of the pressure of ideological conformity is coming from much higher up—specifically, from university administrators.
Long before they meet their professors, students engage with college administrators. They are omnipresent in residence halls and social spaces where they act as informal advisers. But these administrators also set the terms of engagement and the rules for student discourse, including what can be said and done, what topics are sacrosanct, and what should never be questioned.