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'Free Speech for Me but Not for Thee' These Days

05/19/2015 07:32 am ET | Updated May 19, 2016

Fox News has been heavily criticizing a Boston University professor for racist tweets while condemning colleges for having speech codes regulating such words.

Back in 1992, columnist Nat Hentoff published the book Free Speech for Me but Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other. Sadly, things haven't changed much since that year, when I graduated from college.

During that time, names like Anita Bryant and Clarence Thomas, hate speech, and political correctness were in the news. Reading columns about college, I see that not much has changed over the last few decades.

Fox News' Maxim Lott trumpeted his network's power in slapping down the offensive comments of a Boston University professor:

Boston University had a weekend change of heart about a new professor's angry tweets about white people, after FoxNews.com and others reported on the racially-charged comments -- and Terrier alumni threatened to stop writing checks.

Saida Grundy, an incoming assistant professor of sociology and African-American studies at the school, tweeted in recent weeks that "white masculinity is THE problem for america's (sic) colleges," white men are a "problem population," and that she tries to avoid shopping at white-owned businesses. On Friday, her new employer's spokesman, Colin Riley, told FoxNews.com that the tweets came from Grundy's personal Twitter account and that she was "exercising her right to free speech and we respect her right to do so."

Then, amid a deluge of angry emails from former students, the school sought to amend the comment.

"The University does not condone racism or bigotry in any form and we are deeply saddened when anyone makes such offensive statements," Riley told FoxNews.com Saturday.

Just as Fox News was congratulating itself for having mobilized the alums against Grundy, they also touted Fox News Channel's Kirsten Powers' attack on college speech codes. She writes:

This Orwellian climate of intimidation and fear chills free speech and thought. On college campuses it is particularly insidious. Higher education should provide an environment to test new ideas, debate theories, encounter challenging information, and figure out what one believes. Campuses should be places where students are able to make mistakes without fear of retribution. If there is no margin for error, it is impossible to receive a meaningful education.

Powers adds:

For many Americans the term "speech code" sends shivers up the spine. Yet these noxious and un-American codes have become commonplace on college campuses across the United States. They are typically so broad that they could include literally anything and are subject to the interpretation of school administrators, who frequently fail to operate as honest brokers.

Fox News columnist Richard Grenell claimed that liberals who simply pointed out that Powers isn't a liberal were engaging in censorship as well:

In other words, Willis and Ford tried to silence Kirsten Powers by attacking her credibility and demanding that she stop speaking as a liberal. Two liberal male activists attack a female Democrat and try to silence her. All you have to do is look at Power's Twitter page to see that yesterday's champions of diversity are today's intolerants.

So if you take to Twitter to claim that a person is really a conservative, not a liberal, you're engaging in censorship. Now, if they acted like the folks who email my college president and local newspaper editor to request that I be fired, then that would be a real attempt at silencing.

Hentoff was right. The goal of an ideology is to eliminate the free speech of the other. And Powers' claim that leftists are the ones doing this isn't supported by her own channel.

Clark Kerr, a former University of California president, was quoted as saying, "The purpose of a university is to make students safe for ideas, not ideas safe for students." It's a good starting point for determining how students and their professors can debate ideas in a way where participants can be civil in their discussion and respectful of the other side.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu.