Republicans unironically whine about free speech violations at schools

Republicans are removing history they don’t like from school curricula, banning classroom discussions about inequality, and literally burning books — but now they’re calling on the Department of Education to investigate what they claim is the undermining of free speech on college campuses.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, GOP Reps. James Comer of Kentucky and Virginia Foxx of North Carolina wrote: “We are conducting oversight over the U.S. Department of Education’s administration of taxpayers’ dollars awarded to public and private colleges and universities under various federal programs. Specifically, we are concerned many of these colleges and universities are undermining free speech and academic freedom on their campuses.”

Comer and Foxx are ranking members of the House Oversight Committee and the House Committee on Education and Labor, respectively. 

For the past two years, Republicans have outwardly called for state-imposed academic repression of opinions they don’t like, and not just for K-12 students. They’ve attacked school lesson plans that address social inequality — like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. — and they’ve used the misnomer “critical race theory” to try to scare their mostly white, right-wing followers. 

As I’ve reminded readers ad nauseam, critical race theory is a college-level discipline that focuses on the history of racism in American laws. That Republicans are claiming to care about academic freedom on college campuses as they crusade against a subject being taught on college campuses tells you everything you need to know about the GOP: These people are shameless hacks. 

If you’re wondering, the ranking members’ letter doesn’t address any of the conservative attacks on not just free speech, but truthful history itself. Their letter doesn’t mention Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis’ law banning “critical race theory,” which has had a chilling effect on local universities. It also doesn’t mention a conservative, Jewish university’s refusal to officially recognize an organization meant for LGBTQ students (that school, like the ones Republicans are crying about, has received federal funding). Nor does the letter mention efforts by Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to ban critical race theory at public colleges and universities in his state (or his use of taxpayer dollars to fund a right-wing think tank at the University of Texas at Austin, which Patrick himself said was created to fight critical race theory). 

Instead, Comer and Foxx cherry-pick petulant claims of anti-conservative oppression that have been stirred up by right-wing media. 

For example, one of the “incidents” they cite points to former Georgetown University law professor Ilya Shapiro, who left the school by choice after being investigated over remarks he made suggesting President Joe Biden’s choice to nominate a “lesser Black woman” to the Supreme Court — rather than an Asian American man of Shapiro’s choosing — debased the court. 

Right-wing media had a conniption over the investigation, despite the fact Georgetown ultimately cleared him in its investigation.

“I would have to be constantly walking on eggshells,” Shapiro told The New York Times in the wake of his departure.

Another grievance mentioned in the letter includes a Harvard University professor’s claim (which I agree with) that Supreme Court justices who voted to rescind federal abortion rights should “never know peace again.” Conservatives have suggested — falsely — that this was a call for violence, rather than a call for continuous protests. 

All of this points to the GOP’s fundamental argument about purported right-wing repression. To them, being questioned amounts to being silenced.