I don’t know why I didn’t anticipate this might happen, but now that is has, it smacks of the inevitable: A professor at the University of Idaho has asked students to sign a “statement of understanding” acknowledging that some of the films he shows may have content that is offensive to some students. Inside Higher Ed brings us the story.
In a university culture where the avoidance of offense is considered a sacred principle on many campuses, it’s not surprising that Professor Dennis West would hit on a method already commonly used when engaging in nearly any activity that comes with even a minimal amount of risk. It’s sad that showing films to students can now be considered a risky activity, but it’s not surprising. Episodes like the University of New Hampshire’s reaction to a joking flyer, or Gonzaga’s classification of a flyer as hate speech simply because the flyer contained the word “hate,” make it clear that film professors—who sometimes show graphic, violent, or even merely political films—do indeed have something to worry about. This is a sad commentary on today’s academic culture.
West’s travails also make it clear once again—if indeed such clarity was needed—that FIRE’s work is crucial to turn back the tide of censorship on the basis of hurt feelings or perceived “offensiveness.” Students should always be aware that in the process of getting an education, there is a near certainty that somewhere along the way they will see or hear something they find offensive. It shouldn’t take a “statement of understanding” for students to get that. Colleges and universities that don’t make this clear to their students are doing those students—and academia itself—a grave disservice.