As the Indiana University men’s basketball team limps forward after a humiliating 87-66 home loss to rival Purdue, even the most diehard Indiana faithful cannot dismiss a dreadful reality: Purdue is dominating us across the board.
IU’s football and basketball programs have performed poorly compared to the school’s main rival in recent years. Still, it often flies under the radar that Purdue crushes us in another crucial area: free speech.
Within the realm of mainstream discourse, concerns regarding inhibitors to free speech on college campuses are generally dismissed as right-wing delusions. Reports by non-partisan organizations, such as the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, or FIRE, tell a different story.
FIRE has consistently ranked Indiana University toward the bottom of the barrel in its annual assessment of free speech climates on college campuses. For the 2023-24 academic year, FIRE ranked IU at 225 out of 248 schools. It has given six of IU’s official policies “yellow light” ratings, assigned to policies that have the potential to be enforced arbitrarily.
For example, one of IU’s policies states, “We will not tolerate any form of bigotry. … Alcohol or substance abuse, ignorance, life experiences, anger, or, ‘it was just a joke,’ will not be accepted as an excuse.”
Since what constitutes bigotry is highly subjective, the likelihood that this policy is being enforced arbitrarily is incredibly high. Recent events at Harvard and other schools have showcased how speech codes are selectively enforced. Policies of this kind have a chilling effect on students and instructors. Violators of campus speech codes can face severe punishment. Still, even in less serious cases, students and instructors understand that a mere blemish on one’s record may affect their ability to get jobs and promotions in the future, leading many to keep quiet even on issues that they feel strongly about.
A FIRE survey showed that 49 percent of IU Bloomington students self-censored at least once or twice a month.
Worse still, some of IU’s schools, such as the School of Medicine and the College of Arts and Sciences, compel candidates for faculty positions and promotions to sign “D.E.I. Statements,” which coerces many candidates into endorsing a political position to which they do not privately agree. Ideological litmus tests for campus faculty, in the form of D.E.I. or similar compulsory statements, are unethical and unconstitutional, and, ironically, they do nothing to create a diverse or inclusive intellectual environment.
Even without compulsory D.E.I. statements, many of IU’s D.E.I. initiatives infringe on academic freedom since they force faculty members to engage in political activism and disincentivize professors from conducting independent research. This should concern Americans of all political leanings, as universities refusing to maintain a position of neutrality on contentious issues is degrading the public’s trust in academia.
Purdue has found success by taking the opposite approach. On its website, Purdue University proclaims, “It is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable or even deeply offensive.”
FIRE has ranked Purdue at number 30 out of 248 schools and assigned it a green light rating.
If IU wishes to compete with its main rival on this front, it should consider abolishing all speech codes with the potential for arbitrary applications and most of its D.E.I. initiatives, including D.E.I. statements for faculty members, as such policies inhibit discourse on campus and foster a culture of intellectual conformity.
Psychological studies have shown that people who experience little to no exposure to differing opinions are more likely to become radicalized over time, so increases in viewpoint diversity could act as a bulwark against polarization and extremism.
Unfortunately, these proposals are unlikely to be implemented. IU has consistently been hostile to the notion that it should maintain a position of institutional neutrality on various controversial issues. Substantive reform may require intervention from outside actors, such as the state government or non-profit institutions.
Indiana University, as an academic institution, rests on its laurels. A productive community of scholars can only flourish under conditions where the free flow of ideas is unimpeded — an environment IU has consistently failed to provide. Rather than fostering a dynamic and intellectually heterodox culture, IU has chosen to import fashionable but speculative concepts from elite universities and elevate them to a position of sacrosanctity. As a result of that decision, Indiana University now takes a back seat to other public universities in terms of scholarly prestige. And, for all our deficits, we can’t even beat them at basketball.