Racism has been a cancer within American society and its consequences must be addressed. The American university should rightly be at the forefront of that discussion.
But too many colleges and universities have been willing to capitulate to strong-arm tactics that undermine the pursuit of truth, especially when it comes to the most difficult and controversial subjects of the day.
A culture of coercion, one which intimidates those with a different view, and finds offense literally everywhere, perverts the ethics of higher education. The popularity of trigger warnings and the attention devoted to perceived affronts —micro-aggressions—are symptoms of a dangerous misunderstanding that the focus of college should be therapeutic, not academic.
Campuses are degraded when craven administrators allow students to shout down invited speakers or when they give in to pressure and “disinvite” a legitimately scheduled speaker. College presidents who fail to sanction demonstrators who disrupt the school library or who occupy campus buildings are shirking their responsibilities. They are incapable of educating students for citizenship in a free society.
The American college campus has become a place where too many students, faculty and administrators want freedom from speech, not freedom of speech; where force—not reason—is viewed as the avenue to change.
The University of Chicago has modelled academic integrity by committing to a Statement on Principles of Free Expression. We have written to more than 1,100 college and university boards and hereby call on them to adopt the Chicago Statement and to live by these principles.
College is not an expensive country club or a therapist’s couch. It is a rare and special place of freedom to teach and freedom to learn. By fulfilling its mission of the unrelenting pursuit of truth, upheld by rigorous academic standards, it molds the characters and values of coming generations. That is its unique “safe space,” and we look toward campus leaders to cleave to those values.