One of the top journalism schools in the country endorses restrictions on free speech. The University of Missouri’s School of Journalism currently enforces a sweeping newsroom diversity policy that aims to eradicate “reporting that is racist or sexist in fact or in connotation” and to “eliminate nationalistic, racist, sexist and other demeaning remarks . . . whether said in seriousness or jest.” The policy applies to the university’s six affiliated news outlets, which are often staffed by faculty and students.
When asked, the journalism school refused to provide any definitions or examples of a “demeaning” remark. But recent incidents suggest that university students and faculty can encounter severe repercussions if they criticize the Black Lives Matter movement, hang flags in support of the police, or challenge gender ideology. The School’s vaguely defined policy allows university faculty and administrators to enforce speech restrictions as they see fit.
The University of Missouri is no stranger to free-speech controversies. Following the Ferguson riots, it experienced months of student protests against allegedly mishandled racist incidents on campus. Many incursions on free speech ensued: campus police claimed the university could punish students for “hurtful speech,” and a communications professor sought to procure force to prevent student journalists from covering a protest on public property. The university received intense, and deserved, backlash.
The university soon fired the communications professor who had threatened the student journalists. In 2017, the university system officially adopted a variation of the Chicago Statement, putatively to bolster its commitment to free speech—but the year before, in the spring of 2016, the Missouri School of Journalism had adopted a revised diversity policy, with provisions designed to recruit more minority faculty and students, to enforce diversity training for new employees, and to incorporate diversity issues into courses.
The school’s diversity policies not only undermine the university’s stated commitment to free speech but also implicitly endorse progressivism. Consider, for example, that the Columbia Missourian, the university’s newspaper, provides a list of “preferred terms” for student journalists. Pro-lifers should be referred to as “abortion rights opponents,” while illegal immigrants should be called “undocumented immigrants.” News organizations, of course, have every right to develop their own style guides. But these phrases abandon journalistic neutrality to frame controversial issues in favor of progressive positions. Labeling pro-lifers as “abortion rights opponents” is just as uncharitable as labeling pro-choicers as “fetal rights opponents.” “Undocumented immigrant,” meantime, is the term of art of advocates for mass amnesty for illegal immigrants. These guidelines require people who oppose these terms to walk on eggshells just to articulate their disagreement.
Of course, major newspapers and wire services have made similar changes. And it’s no wonder, as top journalism schools, such as Missouri’s, serve as feeder programs for our media. Around 60 percent of journalists with a college education majored in media-related fields.
The news media are supposed to present the public with objective, factual reporting on public affairs. Journalists who fail to question orthodoxy will inevitably develop blind spots and mislead the public. A compromised media will not provide accurate information. The Missouri School of Journalism is poorly serving its students, and the taxpayers who fund it.
If the University of Missouri truly intends to support free speech, then it should require the journalism school to discontinue these policies. It also should prohibit the school from implementing diversity plans that impose political litmus tests on hiring, admissions, and university policies. The professional media may be compromised, but student journalists don’t have to be.
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