Tuesday, Mar 20, 2018
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Keeping free speech free


Bailey Middle School students run to the front of the school to begin a gun control protest on in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 23. School administrators attempted to keep the students out of sight behind the school before they ran to the front of the school.


High school seniors looking for the right college or university ought to be seeking schools that value free speech and civic discourse. So, it is encouraging to see a growing list of Ohio universities stepping up to say that students who participate in peaceful protests against gun violence will not jeopardize their admissions chances.

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Bowling Green State University joined Ohio State and many others around the state in announcing last week that students who are disciplined for walking out of class or otherwise peacefully protesting do not need to worry that they’re endangering their admissions.

BGSU’s vice provost for strategic enrollment planning, Cecilia Castellano, told prospective students that the university values their right to protest.

“Free speech and the open exchange of ideas are bedrock principles of higher education,” she said.

Schools around the country began offering similar assurances last week after students in Texas were warned that joining protests would jeopardize their college admissions.

Beginning with the survivors of a gunman attack at Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, student-led protests have sparked a dramatic change in public discussion of gun violence in schools. Their efforts have inspired high schoolers around the country to join a wave of walk-outs and other protests.

In many cases, students are risking discipline for skipping classes and/​or disobeying adults when they walk out.

Free speech is not always free. It often carries consequences. That students are willing to risk school suspensions and other consequences to express their outrage at years of inaction on gun violence should be taken as a sign of their commitment to the cause.

College campuses in the United States should feel a particular obligation to champion free speech and respect it, especially when young people exercise their right in pursuit of meaningful change.

The University of Toledo ought to join the list of schools explicitly telling prospective students that peaceful protest will not dim their chances of admission. And students around Ohio ought to check the list carefully before choosing a school to look for institutions that reflect the free speech values they share.

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