FIRE president speaks at UNCW about free speech in higher education


Travis Stoker | The Seahawk

Greg Lukianoff speaking at UNCW’s Leadership Lecture Series on Nov. 13, 2018.

Darius Melton, Assistant Opinion Editor

On Tuesday night, Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), spoke to UNC Wilmington students about the importance of having free speech on college campuses. His presentation, “Six Trends That Are Stifling Free Speech in Higher Education,” highlighted specific examples of universities restricting the first amendment rights of students or teachers and described some of the common reasons why such limitations occur.

One such example was an incident in 2013 where a Modesto Junior College student could not pass out copies of the United States Constitution on Constitution Day, as the free speech zone on campus was already booked that day.

“I’m literally holding the first amendment in my hands right now!” Lukianoff quoted, also noting that the free speech zone on that campus – and many others – was dinky and small with a few puddles in it.

Lukianoff is the author of “Unlearning Liberty”, a 2012 book that chronicled his first 11 years working on college campuses, and it was his experiences travelling across the country that introduced him to some of the regular issues he sees on “red-light” campuses. Though he did express that UNCW is a “green-light” school – one where the restriction of free speech does not seem to be an issue – Lukianoff still eagerly took part in the campus’s Freedom of Expression Week festivities with this lecture.

The titular six trends of Lukianoff’s presentation – Political correctness, administrators, the federal government, the professoriate, student illiberalism, and conservative outrage mobs – capture many of the issues plaguing academia today, including disproportionate free speech zones and oppressive speech codes. These problems with free speech are often deep-rooted within the system and its higher-ups, and both students and teachers are affected by them.

Professor James Livingston was fired from Rutgers University earlier in 2018 for complaining about the white gentrification of Harlem on social media. Valdosta State University student Hayden T. Barnes was expelled for protesting the construction of a new parking garage on campus in 2010.

In 2017, professor Lisa Durden of Essex County College in New Jersey was fired for defending a blacks-only party for the Black Lives Matter movement on Fox News, even though she never attended the party herself. In her case, the school let her go preemptively in fear of a public uproar; the school only got one negative e-mail throughout the whole ordeal.

FIRE works with those who feel like they have been wronged like Livingston, Barnes, and Durden, and aims to defend their individual rights to free speech. The organization also works

to empower campus activists and spread the word about student and staff rights across the nation.

Despite one of the six trends being titled “conservative outrage mobs,” Lukianoff expressed that outrage can come from the left, the right, blacks, whites, men, women, or from anywhere else. Still, Lukianoff stressed that everyone deserves free speech, even if their opinions differ from your own.

“If a bigot introduces himself and says, ‘Hi, I’m a bigot!’ then at least now you know,” Lukianoff explained, answering a question from one of his listeners in the Burney Center.

Before he left, Lukianoff assigned homework to all of the students and staff of UNCW:

* Convince our school administration to adopt the Chicago Statement, a pledge to protect free debate and deliberation

* Teach students about academic freedom and free speech during orientation

* Be prepared to fight for your own freedom and – more importantly – the free speech of others

* Read “The Coddling of the American Mind,” a book co-authored by Lukianoff and James Haidt

* Make a habit of seeking out smart people with whom you disagree

“If you’re very sure about something, be suspicious of that,” Lukianoff challenged the audience, regarding his final request.

For more information on Lukianoff and FIRE, you can visit their websites at and respectively. To contact Lukianoff directly, e-mail him at [email protected].