Something dramatic just happened in the world of academia. A dean at a major American university has unapologetically come out for free speech and pretty much told new students on campus that they’re in college now, not kindergarten.
Okay, that may be not be exactly what he said, but there’s no mistaking the message from John Ellison, dean of students at the University of Chicago to incoming freshmen: Grow up children. You won’t melt, you sensitive little snowflakes, if you come into a contact with an opinion or an idea you don’t agree with.
Here’s how Ellison put it in a letter to new students arriving on campus: “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 be controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspective at odds with their own.”
Three cheers for Mr. Ellison and the University of Chicago!
The message, of course, is a not-so-subtle shot across the bow of campus political correctness, a place where students revolt when a speaker with unacceptable views – almost always conservative — is invited on campus or where the hyper-sensitive little darlings say they feel unsafe if someone wears a Halloween costume they don’t like — like at Yale last year.
“Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn, without fear of censorship,” Dean Ellison wrote.
It’s ironic that so many liberals on campus are advocating for censorship since they’re the ones who think that those dreaded conservatives are the ones who are close-minded. A study last year by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA found that roughly 71 percent of freshmen said they agreed with the statement that, “colleges should prohibit racist/sexist speech on campus.”
Of course, the liberal authoritarians are the ones who want to decide what’s racist and what’s sexist. What if you’re against affirmative action on campus? Is that “racist speech”? What if you’re against the liberal version of feminism? Is that sexist?
Back in the late 90s a gay student activist at UCLA said, “I often have to struggle with right and wrong because I am a strong believer in free speech. Opinions are protected under the First Amendment, but when negative opinions come out of a person’s fist, mouth, or pen to intentionally hurt others, that’s when their opinions should no longer be protected.”
No, he is not “a strong believer in free speech.” What comes out of a person’s fist is not the same as what comes out of his mouth or pen. Like many liberals he has no real idea what free speech is about – not if he believes that speech that hurts others “should no longer be protected.”
That was almost 20 years ago and things have only gotten worse. This past March, when some students at Emory University in Atlanta wrote “Trump 2016” in chalk on the sidewalk — oh, the horror! — the snowflakes on campus were terrorized. One of them said, “I’m supposed to feel comfortable and safe [on campus]. But this man is being supported by students on our campus and our administration shows that they, by their silence, support it as well … I don’t deserve to feel afraid at my school,” she added.
Afraid? Because some kids on campus support Donald Trump? That makes a college aged woman feel unsafe?
It’s no secret that academia is a liberal institution. Progressives run the place just about everywhere. A few years ago Condoleezza Rice was supposed to get an honorary degree from Rutgers University, my alma mater. That was intolerable to some students and professors on the “open-minded” left who cited her role in the decision to invade Iraq as their reason for not wanting her at the graduation ceremony. Rather than become a distraction, she graciously disinvited herself. Human-rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali was going to receive an honorary degree from Brandeis University, but protestors made sure that didn’t happen either. They didn’t like her criticism of radical Islam. A few months ago Wall Street Journal contributing columnist Jason Riley was invited by conservative students to speak at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill — but only after the invitation was sent around to liberal groups on campus for their OK. That prompted a column in which Riley wrote that, “We’ve reached a point where conservatives must have their campus speakers pre-approved by left-wing pressure groups. If progressives aren’t already in absolute control of academia, they’re pretty close.”
Maybe the University of Chicago dean’s letter will send a message – not just to liberal students who forgot (or never really knew) how to be liberal. Maybe his letter to incoming freshman will inspire other college administrators across the country to show some backbone for a change and stand up to the liberal bullies on their campuses.
One can hope, anyway.