April 27, 2015
By Naomi Schaefer Riley at New York Post
When he co-founded the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education 15 years ago, civil-rights attorney Harvey Silverglate hoped it would disappear after 10 years.
“Surely,” he thought, “these speech codes and kangaroo courts are so antithetical to the nature of institutions of higher education — rational institutions — that there was no way this culture [of suppressing speech] could possibly survive more than a decade.”
Sadly, recent months have shown that the atmosphere on college campuses is getting worse. Last week, a speech by Christina Hoff Sommers, author of “Who Stole Feminism?” was greeted by students at Georgetown with signs warning that it would “contain discussions of sexual assault and may deny the experiences of survivors.”
Opponents of the speech advertised the location of a “safe space” for anyone who might feel traumatized by her talk.
All that was in addition to efforts by students to get her invitation rescinded and shout her down when she did arrive.
Sommers got a similar reception at Oberlin, where several students wore tape over their own mouths, as if her sheer presence on campus had turned them into hostages.
It’s not just commencement speakers or guest lecturers like Sommers who face the silent treatment.
Andrew Pessin, a professor at Connecticut College, has been condemned recently by colleagues and administrators because a student stumbled on an old Facebook post in which Pessin compared Hamas to a pit bull. (An insult to pit bulls, if you ask me.)
An online petition demands the school’s president declare “that the College does not condone the racism and dehumanization” by Pessin. The college canceled classes for a day to discuss campus racism, and some on campus are labeling Pessin’s writing hate speech.
Silverglate finds this all deeply depressing. And he believes the situation is even worse than it was in the 1990s.
Administrators now have more of an incentive than ever to suppress “offensive speech” for ideological reasons as well as financial ones.
Not only have they bought — hook, line and sinker — the notion that “words wound,” made popular in the ’80s, but they have also realized that their jobs depend on these policies.
The vast expansion of the college administration to include positions like deans of inclusion would be completely unnecessary were it not for the need for someone to be in charge of sensitivity training and enforcement.
And the federal government has made it all worse by tying higher-education funding to compliance with regulations from the Office of Civil Rights.
But the really worrisome part is this: The suppression of ideas that make people uncomfortable is no longer a top-down process.
Now it’s bottom up. The students are the ones registering the complaints and demanding punishment for the offenders.
Silverglate says that professors regularly tell him they are scared of saying the wrong thing about anything in class. And students who used to “roll their eyes” when they talked about the sensitivity training of freshman-orientation programs no longer do.
“Campuses have become asylums where you don’t want the patients to be aroused,” he says. “The students are being treated like psychiatric patients.”
The notion that school is a place where being made uncomfortable is unacceptable has now trickled down to the elementary and secondary level. Students matriculating to college are just expecting the same kind of constant coddling they have received for the 13 years prior.
Maybe they’re taking cues from the larger culture. As a new book by Jon Ronson explains, we have entered a period of “public shaming.”
While it may seem a positive thing that justice has been “democratized” (anyone with a Twitter account can take down a prominent figure), it is also true that students now feel some obligation to police their campuses to make sure no one says anything politically incorrect.
This “grassroots” movement taking over our campuses is more like a proliferation of weeds killing everything in its way.
Schools: Oberlin College