9.1.17

GETTING BEYOND YALE AND OBERLIN.

Wisconsin professor of public affairs Donald P. Moynihan responds, possibly to the criticism a Whiteness Studies course being offered for his campus has been getting from the legislature, with a suggestion that participants in the Curriculum Wars, whatever their arguing stance, pay attention to what's going on in the community colleges, the regional comprehensives, the mid-majors and the land-grants.
If you truly believe that a university should be a place where people are empowered to pursue a fearless sifting and winnowing of ideas and evidence that benefit us all, I have a simple request: Look at the bigger picture beyond a few elite private institutions. For those of us who teach where most American students are educated, actual triggers are a more relevant danger than trigger warnings. Safe spaces are less threatening than shutting down teaching and research spaces.
That's a little bit of the standard academic posturing: the Wisconsin Legislature has been exercising its fiscal authority with respect to the university in ways that might be pinching business as usual, and that "actual triggers" is a virtue signal.  (Are you safer in the North Woods of Wisconsin during deer season, with six hundred thousand heavily armed people, many of whom are members of the National Rifle Association, or somewhere in the part of Chicago that is not Wrigleyville, the Magnificent Mile, or the Loop, where there are fewer heavily armed people?)

But he's right about asking the legislators to chill.
Policy makers who accuse students of weakening campus speech should lead by example. Free speech on campus has survived and will survive challenges from students and other members of civil society. Its fate is much less certain when the government decides to censor discomforting views.
I'd be more encouraged if he'd at least acknowledge that the conscience-cowboys of Student Affairs are not, shall we say, exemplars of disinterested and free-ranging inquiry.  And that sort of inquiry is more important, the farther one gets from the top of the U.S. News league tables.

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