by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Robert Shibley writes for the Martin Center about a book that does little to further the cause of free speech and ideological diversity on college campuses.
On picking up What Snowflakes Get Right: Free Speech, Truth, and Equality on Campus, one might expect a book urging those who dismiss today’s college students’ complaints about institutional racism, persistent sexism, and other societal ills to take them more seriously. To engage with their arguments and to try to empathize with them, rather than ignoring or lambasting them, even when they engage in what seems to many people like unjustified histrionics.
What Snowflakes Get Right is not that book. In fact, on completing NYU comparative literature professor (and former vice provost) Ulrich Baer’s book laying out his views on campus free speech, one can’t help but be struck by its near-total lack of empathy for anyone who disagrees with his political viewpoint, or whose interpretation of the principles of free speech and equality differ from his own, extremely arguable, views.
The result is a book that does nothing to change the minds of those not already disposed to agree with the author, and almost seems intended to alienate them. Baer repeatedly cites Donald Trump’s election, in lurid terms, as a justification for universities to forbid speech that creates “inequality.” Every example paints his ideological opponents in a bad light, and those who agree with him in a positive one.
Perhaps the book is merely meant to stiffen the spines of left-leaning critics of free speech who may be having a hard time justifying their demands for censorship when it’s gobsmackingly obvious that neither the left nor the right have pure motives. But it’s also possible that it is the natural result of Baer’s belief that it’s both right and admirable to refuse to debate certain topics unless the other side has already agreed to some or all of your contentions.