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Election Integrity News Blog


Behind Closed Doors

MI GOP Youth Vice Chair on Campus Free Speech

By Kristine Christlieb

In an infamous scene from the popular FX series The Shield, cop Vic Mackey interrogates a

suspect with a phone book. Back when there were phone books, their abuse was a standard interrogation method in cop television dramas.

According to TV-cop lore, a phone book was a bad cop’s interrogation method of choice because it didn’t leave a mark on the victim, and it was effective in getting suspects to say what the cops needed to hear.

America’s college professors can exert a similarly insidious degree of pressure on their students; instead of making them talk, their subtle methods create an atmosphere of self-censoring silence.

Free Speech for Professors

Since her election in February as Michigan’s Republican Youth Vice Chair, 21-year-old Rylee Linting (pictured left: Facebook image), has talked to college students across the state, and indirect intimidation is a common theme.

“I wouldn’t want to call it censorship,” Linting said. “They want to make it appear there is a level playing field, and not every single professor is pushing an agenda,” Linting observed. “But they make their views seem like fact and not opinion. Behind the closed doors of a classroom, professors have the floor. It’s easy for them to make their opinions known, and for those opinions to take on an air of authority.”

College faculty, most of whom have earned doctoral degrees, are by definition experts in their fields. They are in a more powerful position intellectually than their students, making it difficult for students to object or challenge their expertise.

The online student resource, Intelligent, conducted a 2022 survey and found 85% of college students say professors reveal political opinions in class.

Students Self-Censoring

While faculty feel comfortable expressing their political opinions in class, students … well, not so much.

When faculty opinions, whether they are conservative or liberal, are expressed, “behind closed doors” with a final grade at stake, it is the rare student who is willing to speak up.

So free speech in the classroom isn’t directly suppressed; instead, it is self-censored. Again,

turning to Intelligent, a 2021 student survey found:

  • 52% say they “always” or “often” refrain from expressing views on political and social issues “out of concern for potential consequences.”

  • Conservative students are more likely to self-censor.

Keeping in mind that incoming freshmen are 18 years old, it isn’t surprising Intelligent’s survey also showed college students most fear losing the respect of their classmates and professors.

On a more practical level, they are also concerned about jeopardizing their grades.

Linting offered an example. “I’ve known students who totally acted like a Democrat to get an A.”

Students arrive on campus, not only young but also a product of their family upbringing.

When speaking with Michigan Fair Elections, Holt Dallam, a sophomore at Lebanon Valley

College in Pennsylvania, wished to emphasize the values his parents instilled in him.

Those values were the basis for his opinion on free speech. “Speech should be mostly free, but you can’t call people slurs,” Dallas said. He also believes “swearing or acting rudely” should not be allowed.

Dallam understands that people can disagree, but they “should be respectful about it.” One “should not hurt the community” in speech or otherwise.

He favors both political parties having equal access to the campus, but he also sees that many colleges push their own agendas.

Brian O’Reilly, Dallam’s roommate, told Michigan Fair Elections he “sees a lot of the minority who scream the loudest.”

In his view, if some students disagree when a school allows controversial people to be booked to speak on campus, the school should just say, “You can’t always get what you want.”

He does, however, hold strong opinions about what being an American means. He stated that “supporting terrorism is not okay,” and those students “should be disciplined.”

Brian said if both political parties were to come to his campus, he would be able to see both points of view. The college should “not pick sides.”

Potential Solutions

Linting believes the role of elected university regents is an undervalued position and urges more people to run for the office. “A Republican candidate came very close to winning in 2022,” she remarked.

In the last election, Michigan voters sent a slate entirely of Democrats to govern the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, and Michigan State University. Regents of the University of Michigan preside over an $11 billion budget.

Valuable insights from Linting—especially considering the lack of transparency from university officials in connection with recent scandals. Here, Here, and Here.

Kristine Christlieb volunteers for Michigan Fair Elections and serves on MFE's communications team. She publishes Trust but Verify on Substack.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Michigan Fair Elections. Artificial intelligence may have been used in the creation of this message or in the links referenced herein.

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(859) 468-0221


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