Yes, some things – like academic freedom – are more important than the delicate feelings of new undergraduate students. Kudos to the University of Chicago for making their incoming freshman class aware of that hard fact up front.
In a refreshing contrast to the usual depressing tales of faculty capitulations to the whining, self-involved voices of the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, the University of Chicago decided to make a bold stand for academic freedom.
From Heat Street:
The University of Chicago, one of America’s most prestigious and selective universities, is warning incoming students starting this fall not to expect safe spaces and a trigger-free existence during their four-year journey through academia.
“Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called “trigger warnings,” we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual “safe spaces” where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own,” the letter states.
Expect the University of Chicago to be rewarded for their courage and integrity through greater application and enrolment numbers, as well as higher levels of achievement from the incoming undergraduate class as those delicate snowflakes too enraptured by their own vulnerability and completely unable to process dissenting opinions decide to study at other, more large-L liberal schools.
Already we have started to see a backlash against those institutions and university leaderships which are too quick to capitulate to petulant SJW demands to alter the curriculum, suppress free speech, disinvite conservative speakers and turn the campus from being a place of fearless debate to one of infantilising self-affirmation and victimhood.
The University of Missouri, roiled by campus protests last year in which marauding Social Justice Warriors forced the resignation of the university president for failing to treat black students like helpless victims, has seen its enrolment and profitability fall off a cliff. Good. If there is any justice, enrolment at Mizzou will dwindle until there is nothing left but tumbleweeds and the shrieking activists who drove out reason from a place of learning. And closer to home, the University of Oxford’s Oriel College had to frantically appease angry alumni donors who were ready to cancel their donations to the college in protest at Oriel’s limp capitulation to the Rhodes Must Fall movement.
In this very “Tales From The Safe Space” series, we have previously highlighted other examples of academic institutions standing up to their crybully students rather than rolling over and letting them seize control – the uncompromising example set by Dr. Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, is particularly encouraging.
As Dr. Piper memorably warned his students:
If you’re more interested in playing the “hater” card than you are in confessing your own hate; if you want to arrogantly lecture, rather than humbly learn; if you don’t want to feel guilt in your soul when you are guilty of sin; if you want to be enabled rather than confronted, there are many universities across the land (in Missouri and elsewhere) that will give you exactly what you want, but Oklahoma Wesleyan isn’t one of them.
At OKWU, we teach you to be selfless rather than self-centered. We are more interested in you practicing personal forgiveness than political revenge. We want you to model interpersonal reconciliation rather than foment personal conflict. We believe the content of your character is more important than the color of your skin. We don’t believe that you have been victimized every time you feel guilty and we don’t issue “trigger warnings” before altar calls.
Oklahoma Wesleyan is not a “safe place”, but rather, a place to learn: to learn that life isn’t about you, but about others; that the bad feeling you have while listening to a sermon is called guilt; that the way to address it is to repent of everything that’s wrong with you rather than blame others for everything that’s wrong with them. This is a place where you will quickly learn that you need to grow up.
And flatly reminded them:
This is not a day care. This is a university.
A long-overdue reminder for some students.
And so the University of Chicago’s stand against the SJWs did not happen in isolation; nor was it possible without a rigorous examination of the negative trends in campus life and the various ways in which academic freedom is under attack. And that is precisely what they did – back in 2014 the university commissioned a report on the state of freedom of expression at universities nationwide and reaffirming their own commitment to the timeless value of free speech over and above any passing social fashion.
From the report (my emphasis in bold):
Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn. Except insofar as limitations on that freedom are necessary to the functioning of the University, the University of Chicago fully respects and supports the freedom of all members of the University community “to discuss any problem that presents itself.”
Of course, the ideas of different members of the University community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.
[..] In a word, the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.
And it is that last part which presents such a challenge to many of today’s students – young people today are not only arriving at university unable to tolerate let alone contest ideas which they oppose, they are outraged at the very suggestion that they should learn to cope in such a way.
And not entirely through their own fault, for mine is a snowflake generation raised to believe that we are special, unique, perfect and above any reproach which might damage our self-esteem. We are taught not that sticks and stones may break our bones but words will never hurt us, but rather that sticks and stones may break our bones but words can kills us stone dead.
From early childhood education on upward we are taught that hurting someone’s feelings is just as bad – if not worse – than physically assaulting them. And all the while we are told to present our tear-stained faces to the relevant authorities the moment that somebody upsets us, so that they can receive their just punishment. We are not taught self sufficiency, resilience and the power of reason, but rather are encouraged to exalt in our weaknesses and wear our fragility like a badge of honour.
Little wonder, then, that when my generation reach university and fall under the intoxicating presence of the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics (student protests always appearing edgy and cool, but this incarnation representing a dangerous shift in attitude and tactics) so many of us immediately buy in to the idea that our personal worldview and beliefs are never to be questioned.
The University of Chicago alone cannot do anything about the way that people in the English-speaking Western world raise their children or educate them at a young age. They cannot challenge the toxic rise of baby-centred parenting, where parents and adults contort themselves to conform to the whims and sensitivities of their historically pampered children rather than promoting respect, deference and anti-fragility. The University of Chicago is but one academic institution facing a tidal wave of consequences from years of bad parenting, educational and child-rearing trends in society.
But what the University of Chicago can do – what they did do, admirably – is boldly restate who and what they are as an organisation, and what they stand for as an institute of higher education. They can boldly restate their commitment to the timeless values of academic freedom, and the fostering of personal and intellectual growth through robust debate and the free exchange of views. They can tell their incoming freshmen that no matter how accustomed they are to getting gold stars simply for participating, or demanding positive affirmation of even their most questionable decisions, the days of coddling will end the moment they set foot on campus.
This is what the University of Chicago did. This is what every university in America, Britain and the entire English-speaking world needs to do now if they are to avoid regressing into nothing more than adult daycare centres where the Play-Doh and puppy videos are piled high while challenging books burn in a pyre outside the library.
Top Image: Sports Illustrated, Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images
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