by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
George Leef’s latest Martin Center column discusses a new book from Princeton professor Keith Whittington that explains why universities must defend free speech.
He is not predicting that American universities are necessarily going to become the kind of politicized university the fascists demanded and got in Germany, but warns that the freedom to speak your mind without fear of vicious retaliation is very much in danger here.
For one thing, we now see a proliferation of demands from some students that college must be remade to suit their wants. They insist that courses that allegedly promote “whiteness” and “patriarchy” must be removed from the curriculum or at least that professors post “trigger warnings” for material they claim could be harmful. Whittington sees that as part of a tendency to make student comfort a higher priority than intellectual engagement and “to drive controversial subject matter out of the college classroom.”
Equally disturbing are the demands for “safe spaces.” That movement, Whittington shows, began with intellectually dodgy courses in identity politics where some students claimed they were “comfortable” and able to express their feelings openly. The problem was that while some students had their feelings validated, others had to self-censor because the classes made them feel unsafe to express doubts about the supposed “truths” they were being steeped in.
Then, from individual classes (and campus centers limited only to certain students), the “safe space” idea grew to encompass the whole campus.