University of Chicago sent out a letter to its incoming freshman that’s making liberals very uncomfortable, and even agitated.
The letter reads:
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Once here you will discover that one of the university of Chicago’s defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression. This is captured in the university’s faculty report on freedom of expression. Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn without fear of censorship. Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean freedom to harass or threaten others. You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement. At times this may even challenge you and cause discomfort.
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.
Fostering the free exchange of ideas reinforces a related university priority–building a campus that welcomes people of all backgrounds. Diversity of opinion and background is a fundamental strength of our community. The members of our community must have the freedom to espouse and explore a wide range of ideas…”
The rest of the letter is irrelevant to this topic, but it’s here if you’d like to read it.
I literally clapped when I read the letter for the first time. I was alone in my room. Yeah, I’m a loser. Anyway, this letter is likely in reaction to the overblown demonstrations at Yale, Mizzou, and other schools last year, as well as multiple cancelled speaking engagements.
It’s perfectly reasonable to expect a diversity of ideas in college. The letter even put caveats on freedom of expression so as to make certain they weren’t inadvertently condoning harassment, and other bad behavior. But that’s not enough for the Left. They want to strangle freedom of expression until anyone who opposes them is terrified to speak.
In response to the university’s letter, Vox (the liberal media’s crazy uncle) published a piece by Kevin Gannon, a professor of history at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa. The piece originally ran on Gannon’s own website under the title “Trigger Warning: Elitism, Gatekeeping, and Other Academic Crap,” and it slams the university’s letter, calling it a “screed,” a “manifesto,” and dismissively referencing renowned economist Milton Friedman multiple times (just so you’re totally certain he’s a liberal).
This is a paragraph break so you can sit down for a minute to catch your breath. A liberal college professor?!
Now, on to substance. Gannon’s letter is rather lengthy, so I’m going to touch on just a few points I found especially comical.
“Students ought to be challenged, even made uncomfortable, in order to learn in deep and meaningful ways. And, of course, collegiate education is where students must encounter perspectives different from their own. No one who genuinely believes in higher education is going to dispute any of that.”
Sounds good. But wait, a feel a dispute coming.
“Why go full blast against this purported scourge of wimpy, touchy-feely educational malpractice right up front? Is there a safe-spaces petition percolating in the ranks of the first-years?…Did they sit around and ask themselves what Milton Friedman would have done?”
Purported scourge? Let’s go over some evidence.
The number of speakers who are disinvited from universities has risen dramatically over the last fifteen years:
Conservative author Ben Shapiro even had to be escorted out of the building at California State University, Los Angeles after giving a speech in February because of the aggressive protests out front.
Campus Reform writes:
“…when it came time for him to speak, protesters violently barricaded doors and entrances to the speech, and even pulled a fire alarm hoping to force an evacuation, leading Shapiro to state that he has ‘never seen or experienced anything like the near-riot’ that took place in an effort to shut down the event.”
As protesters blocked the doors, and even assaulted some attendees (see here), they chanted “Racists go home!”
Speakers are more likely to be disinvited if they’re conservative:
Or we can talk about the confrontations at Yale.
Last year, Erika Christakis, Associate Master of Silliman College, dared to suggest in a response to a public email that sometimes Halloween is a time for young people “to be a little bit obnoxious…a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?”
By the way, this was after an extensive preamble in which Christakis made sure to note she didn’t want to “trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation.”
Students and faculty were up in arms. Over 700 people signed a letter calling her remarks “offensive,” and that her email “invalidates the voices of minority students on campus.” Then came the calls for resignation–for Christakis and her husband, who was Master of Silliman College.
Here’s a video in which a group of students aggressively confront and surround Mr. Christakis:
One student even got up in Christakis’ face, and screamed “It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It is about creating a home here!” Her comment generated a round of snaps from the crowd.
Groups at prominent universities, including Oberlin, UC Berkeley, NYU, and UCLA have demanded segregated areas in which only African American students are allowed.
When a debate was scheduled between Jessica Valenti of Feministing.org and libertarian Wendy McElroy at Brown University, a safe space was set up. Why? Because McElroy might “invalidate people’s experiences,” and “criticize the term ‘rape culture,'” according to a New York Times piece by Judith Schulevitz.
The Times adds:
“The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma.”
Emma Hall, a student who’d experienced sexual assault, used the safe space, saying:
“I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs.”
These are just a fraction of numerous examples of the increasing sense of fragility and insulation on college campuses across the country–some of which can be read in Shulevitz’s piece.
Purported scourge? Hardly.
Gannon goes on:
“For every ginned-up hypothetical scenario of spoiled brats having a sit-in to protest too many white guys in the lit course, there are very real cases where trigger warnings or safe spaces aren’t absurdities, but pedagogical imperatives. If I’m teaching historical material that describes war crimes like mass rape, shouldn’t I disclose to my students what awaits them in these texts? If I have a student suffering from trauma due to a prior sexual assault, isn’t a timely caution the empathetic and humane thing for me to do?”
The Chicago Tribune spoke with Geoffrey Stone, law professor and past provost at the University of Chicago, about the letter. According to The Tribune, Stone told them that while the university doesn’t “support, require or encourage trigger warnings, it does not prohibit them, he added. Professors are still free to alert students to certain material if they choose to do so.”
Also, it’s in the freaking letter. They say they don’t “support” trigger warnings, not that they ban them. But liberals don’t ever seem to like details.
Gannon doesn’t stop at the hypothetical, however. He sets up a beautiful straw man by citing the time when Virginia Tech students “protested their university’s invitation to Charles Murray to deliver a lecture.” They protested an alleged racist! So everything else–from Yale to Oberlin–has been invalidated! Nope. Not how it works.
Gannon concludes by getting on his highest horse:
“These two examples-one centered in an individual classroom and the other involving institutional decisions-speak to the diversity and complexity of the issues involved. It’s easy to inveigh against silly scenarios. It’s much harder to address real things that really happen…
…The Chicago letter reeks of arrogance, of a sense of entitlement, of an exclusionary mindset; in other words, the very things it seeks to inveigh against. It’s not about academic freedom, it’s about power…There is no room here for empathy, for student agency, or for faculty discretion.”
None of that is true. Hypothetical invalidated. Real “issue” invalidated.
“Displaying empathy for the different experiences our students bring to the classroom is not a threat to our academic freedom.”
Another straw man. The letter doesn’t imply a lack of personal empathy, but an understanding that when we grow up, we face challenges–and University of Chicago won’t shy away from those. That’s very different from lacking empathy.
“This year, we should challenge ourselves to quit fixating on caricatures and hypotheticals and instead acknowledge the actual landscape of teaching and learning in all its messiness and complexity.”
The real-world examples above may seem like caricatures, but they’re real, I assure you. Nor are they hypothetical; they’re occurring on campuses across the nation.
Gannon writes as if only he can see the “complexity” of student life, and that to stand for intellectual freedom of expression is akin to “shutting down” students. Bull. Real complexity is found within freedom of expression. In shutting that expression down, or severely limiting its scope, we are doing a disservice to all students.