The University of Rhode Island isn’t exactly representing the spirit of Roger Williams in the Ocean State.
Although it no-doubt reveals my prejudices, if I were to rank Rhode Island’s handful of institutions of higher education on matters of freedom of thought, I’d expect Brown University — the Ivy League bastion of the elites and producer of the likes of Aaron Regunberg and Tiara Mack — to top the list of badness. Say what one will about a state school like the University of Rhode Island, where I received my undergraduate degree, most casual observers might expect it to be broader in scope, personnel, and clientele, dragging its ideological character closer to center.
That being the case, I’ve been genuinely surprised by recent discoveries. Consider this from stats-pro Nate Silver. Drawing on a survey of students, Silver offers the unsurprising news that (quote) liberal students are utterly intolerant of people with whom the disagree on issues core to their belief systems while (quote) conservative students are very open. What caught my attention was that the University of Rhode Island is the fifth-most-intolerant institution on the list when it comes to people who ought to be permitted to speak on campus. This should be a subject of news reports and shame in our state. The ACLU is quick to jump in with its schoolmarmish “tut-tut” when the governor decides no longer to maintain a patronage job for a radical who supports genocide, but the organization’s concern about civil liberties apparently extends only so far.
The survey, conducted by College Pulse and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), only captured data from Brown and URI in Rhode Island, but the Ivy institution at least ranked “average” for its speech climate, whereas URI ranked “below average.” As indicated above, URI is 244th on the matter of tolerating controversial speakers, but it does worse than Brown on every front except one — how acceptable students find it to disrupt and prevent controversial speakers. To be fair to my alma mater (and my biases), this does raise an interesting possibility. If the only area in which Brown is less tolerant than URI is students’ support for shutting down any controversial speakers who manage to make it to campus, it may be that so many students at Brown feel “comfort expressing [their] ideas” because the university does much more to ensure that nobody on the campus will actually desire to express contrary ideas. If the student body is of like mind, then most of its members will feel comfortable “discussing difficult topics on campus,” as well as silencing anybody who might take the opposing view on such topics.
I attended the University of Rhode Island a year or two after it was named the biggest party school in the country, and the mood on campus was palpably directed toward shedding that title. There should be even more concern about shedding its status as a home of censorship and intolerance. Perhaps URI President Marc Parlange can find some time to make an issue of the matter as he hones the language of his land acknowledgements and replace one or two of the many administrators tasked with advancing left-wing “diversity” causes with positions tasked with ensuring that genuine diversity is tolerated.
Featured image by Justin Katz, using Dall-E 3 and Photoshop AI.