‘University Strikes Back Against Campus Political Correctness’

Canadian Universities Please Take Note:

Image: CBC

Image: CBC

“The anodyne welcome letter to incoming freshmen is a college staple, but this week the ‘University of Chicago’ took a different approach: It sent new students a blunt statement opposing some hallmarks of campus political correctness…

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,”

John Ellison, Dean of Students, wrote to members of the class of 2020, who will arrive next month.


“It was a not-so-veiled rebuke to the protests calling for limits on what kinds of speech should be condoned on campus, and who should be allowed to speak, that have rocked Yale, Wesleyan, Oberlin and many other colleges and universities in recent years. Some alumni, dismayed by the trend, have withheld donations from their alma maters.

“The Chicago letter echoed policies that were already in place there and at a number of other universities calling for

“the freedom to espouse and explore a wide range of ideas”.

“But its stark wording, coming from one of the nation’s leading universities and in a routine correspondence that usually contains nothing more contentious than a dining hall schedule, felt to people on all sides like a statement.

“Kevin Gannon, a History professor at Grand View University in Des Moines, dismissed the letter on his website as

“a manifesto looking for an audience”, one that “relies on caricature and bogeymen rather than ‘reason’ and nuance”.

“The ‘Heritage Foundation’’ wrote on ‘Facebook’ that the letter

“will make you stand up and cheer.”

“Other universities have made similar statements, but the message from Chicago is “clearer and more direct than I’ve seen”, said Greg Lukianoff, president of the ‘Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’, a leading critic of what it says are destructive speech restrictions at many campuses…

“Jeremy Manier, a University of Chicago spokesman, insisted there were no hidden motives behind the letter. And he said professors remained free, at their discretion, to use ‘trigger warnings’, the messages sometimes posted atop campus publications, assignments and other material, noting that they might be upsetting for people who have had ‘traumatic’ experiences.

“Conservatives have been the loudest critics of campus political correctness, and hailed the Chicago statement as a victory. Mary Katharine Ham, a senior writer for ‘The Federalist’…website, wrote that it was

“a sad commentary on higher education that this is considered a brave and bold move but it is, and the University of Chicago should be applauded mightily for stating what used to be obvious.”

“But while conservatives often frame campus free speech as a Left-versus-Right issue, the dispute is often within the Left.

“Historically, the Left has been {was} much more protective of academic freedom than the Right, particularly in the university context {Yes, but that changed over 30 years ago, when Leftist faculty started gaining control of academic departments},”

said Geoffrey R. Stone, a University of Chicago law professor who specializes in free speech issues…

“The dispute over free speech has ricocheted off campuses and around the country. In a commencement speech this year at Howard University, President Obama said:

“Don’t try to shut folks out, don’t try to shut them down, no matter how much you might disagree with them. There’s been a trend around the country of trying to get colleges to disinvite speakers with a different point of view, or disrupt a politician’s rally. Don’t do that — no matter how ridiculous or offensive you might find the things that come out of their mouths.”

IMAGE: Jannis Tobias Werner via Shutterstock

IMAGE: Jannis Tobias Werner via Shutterstock

“The University of Chicago has long been associated with the conservative school of economics that is named for it. It also takes pride in a history of free expression, like allowing the ‘Communist Party’ candidate for president, William Z. Foster, to speak on the ornate neo-Gothic campus on the city’s South Side in 1932, despite fierce criticism…

“The university said Friday that Dean Ellision and the university President, Robert R. Zimmer, were not available to discuss the letter or what prompted it, but Mr. Manier referred queries to Professor Stone, a former university provost.

“Last year, a faculty ‘Committee on Freedom of Expression’, appointed by Dr. Zimmer and headed by Professor Stone, produced a report stating that

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.”

“We didn’t feel we were doing something internal to the University of Chicago that was in any way radical or different,” Professor Stone said Friday. It is clear that some colleges are retreating from the same free speech values, he said, “but my guess, if you asked most of these institutions 10 or 20 years ago, they would have said more or less what we said in our statement.”

Since Professor Stone’s committee produced its report, several other universities, including Princeton, Purdue, Columbia and the University of Wisconsin system, have adopted similar policies or statements, some of them taken almost verbatim from the report. And this week’s letter to University of Chicago freshmen draws from that, and specifically cites the report as embodying the university’s point of view

“There often seems to be a generational divide on campus speech — young people demanding greater sensitivity, and their elders telling them to get thicker skins — but a survey by the ‘Knight Foundation’ and ‘Gallup’ gives a murkier picture. It found that 78% of college students said they preferred a campus “where students are exposed to all types of speech and viewpoints”, including offensive and biased speech, over a campus where such speech is prohibited. Students were actually more likely to give that response than adults generally.

“But when asked specifically about “slurs and other language on campus that is intentionally offensive to certain groups”, 69 % of college students said that colleges should be allowed to impose restrictions on such expression…”

–‘University of Chicago Strikes Back Against Campus Political Correctness’
AUG. 26, 2016



“The indulged child is becoming the coddled university student.”

‘Trigger warnings: the latest threat to academic freedom’

“Have you heard of “trigger warnings?” I’m worried that you will, and soon. The ‘Los Angeles Times’ denounced them in an editorial this week; ‘The New Republic’, a Left-leaning magazine, did the same in a piece at the beginning of March. Trigger warnings are coming.

“Time was, a “trigger warning” might have indicated that Roy Rogers’ famous horse was approaching. No longer. These days the phrase denotes a growing tendency among North American university student groups to demand that professors provide advance warning about course material – books, films, discussion topics – that might provoke anxiety, panic attacks, or post-traumatic stress disorder in students who have been victims of abuse or assault, or who believe they are the victims of systemic discrimination. A few universities have even begun asking professors to remove said material from their courses.

“We are beginning to see a new era of correctness, in which the protection of a small group of students who might be harmed in an unpredictable fashion overrides the academic freedoms of university professors.

“Ohio’s Oberlin College now has a policy asking faculty members to

“be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism and other issues of privilege and oppression,” {Sounds like a neo-Marxist school…}

and to make so-called triggering material optional if it does not contribute directly to learning goals, or even to excise it. As The New Republic pointed out, Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe’s brilliant novel about the great harms of colonialism, “Things Fall Apart”, now carries the warning that it

“may trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, and religious persecution, violence, suicide, and more.”

“Last week, the student senate at UC-Santa Barbara (my alma mater) passed a similar motion, advisory at this time, asking professors to add trigger warnings to their course syllabi. In February, a Rutgers sophomore writing in the New Jersey university’s student newspaper called for a trigger warning on, among other works, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, because the book contains

“suicide, domestic abuse, and graphic violence.”

“One cannot deny the existence of racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination on campuses. Protecting Charter rights, as well as shielding students against physical assault and hate speech {Please define…}, are clear grounds for limitations on academic freedom.

“Yet when trigger alerts are poised to affect the everyday conduct of postsecondary education, one recoils. Proponents of trigger warnings say they are not demanding censorship; they just want to give students the right to opt out of material that might upset them, even if the material is required (a conundrum they don’t explain). But it seems more ominous than that.

“As a retired history professor, reading news reports and blog posts about trigger warnings made me wonder about many of the courses I taught at Queen’s University – “The Vietnam War”, “Drug Wars and Drug Cultures”, “Conspiracy and Dissent in American History”, and “The Price of Sex: Venereal Disease in Popular Culture since the 1880s”. Given what I see today about the new thought police, I’m amazed that I survived 37 years at the lectern without incident.

“While pondering those implications, I took an unofficial survey of colleagues and friends – male and female, feminist and not – and found near-total disdain for the idea that students should be protected from difficult topics, ideas and experiences.

University is life, they said, almost to a person – not some ivy-covered tower where students retreat from reality and faculty take tea at 4. Pithy comments of outrage and disbelief punctuated the main point that students have to grow up and take their place in the real world. Moreover, if nothing else, university ought to provide the means to achieve this maturity and, with it, self-reliance.

“As a nurse in Kingston put it:

“I am going to prepare a trigger warning for myself and recite it before every shift at the hospital. ‘Warning: death, puke, poop, phlegm, bile, pus, sweat, family discord, malingering, violence, belligerence, fear, withdrawal…’ Thank goodness there are people like me who face the real world and just get on with it.”

“Yes, we live in an unmanageable, sometimes dangerous world. No, we do not need to protect our students from alarming topics. We need to “get on with it.” A good start would be for professors treading controversial ground to contextualize their material clearly – before, during and after classes – examining how they present topics and explaining why offensive material is an important part of the real world.

“But the problem doesn’t lie with universities and professors. The problem is with some students, and the atmosphere they are being raised in.

“A recent ‘Atlantic Monthly’ critique of micromanaged children and helicopter parents who organize their kids’ every minute, fretting if they’re out of sight for more than a half-hour, makes the point that today’s children grow up to be more fearful and less creative than previous generations. Kids no longer are left alone to find their way, to invent spontaneous and sometimes risky forms of play, to confront and overcome unknowns, to do things themselves, and to fall, fail and get up again. Too many middle-class parents obsess on danger, even though research shows little increase over time in violence and accidents.

“Here is a perfect fit and precursor of what we increasingly see at universities. This latest attack on academic freedom comes from these same children described above, now-college age. This is something new in higher education. Perhaps we should not be surprised that some of them bring to university the fears and concerns instilled at an earlier age. The indulged child is becoming the coddled university student.”

–‘Trigger warnings: the latest threat to academic freedom’,
GEOFF SMITH, Toronto Globe and Mail, Apr. 04, 2014

COMMENT: “I would think that reading a trigger warning would trigger whatever feelings it’s supposed to warn against. If you want to avoid recalling being assaulted, “Warning: Contains Reports of Assaults” isn’t going to help you much….

“Geoff Smith is wrong that the students are at fault and the professors are not. The real source of violations of and threats to academic freedom and freedom of expression on campus comes from academic administrators. Academic administrators have taken up the general ideology of the safe campus. Of course, they could not get away with it except that the professors let them. If professors and administrators were committed to education (and not, rather, to a social agenda or to vocational training), they would explain the importance of academic freedom and freedom of expression to university life.”
“What about coming to university sufficiently mature to deal with difficult topics and consider the purpose of the education is to be intellectually challenged and grow as an individual? Read the course syllabus and be prepared to go for counselling if triggered – or choose another course! A ‘heads-up’ is fine but the course content shouldn’t be altered to accommodate individual sensibilities.”
“I’m sitting here recalling some of the material that we covered in my university courses and virtually every class had some material that was difficult to digest due to its content. But university isn’t about sunshine and roses — it’s about facing the real world, learning to dissect what you hear/see/read/experience, and finding your passion and your place in the world.

“I recall one class in particular that left me feeling sick after almost every class, and during class preparation (ie. reading). The course was all about examining Totalitarianism – how it starts, how it creeps into every aspect of the affected society, the unimaginable horrors it can wield.

“Now, can someone tell me how exactly that course — which was one of the best courses I have ever taken and provided me with an incredibly life-changing ability to see past the rose-coloured glasses and come face to face with the real world and the ugly side of humanity — without requiring students to read or discuss disturbing material???

“It wouldn’t be possible. There were nights that I couldn’t sleep after reading some of the material for that course. I felt physically ill on a number of occasions during class discussions — but no way in hell I would trade that for a feel-good course.”
“I am a teacher at an adult-education high school in Toronto and whenever I show a video that has violence or foul language or what have you, I always warn the class what’s coming. I see it as common courtesy. However, I would not go so far as to stop showing these things in my class because some students might have problems with it. In fact, we could turn their discomfort into a “teachable moment”.
“Fear grips the ivory tower as academic eunuchs run for cover.”



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