It reads like a breath of fresh air: this year’s welcome letter to incoming students from the University of Chicago. Rather than the usual cut-and-paste welcome to newcomers, the students were informed that the university would not bow to the tyranny of trigger warnings, safe spaces, and censorship like so many other campuses across the U.S.
By Shane Smith
University of Chicago Dean of Students John Ellison has learned the lesson of universities that cave to the ridiculous demands of social-justice warriors running wild on their campuses, that there is no end to their demands. Cave once and the result is what’s currently going on at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where the local hive of activists is declaring that jokes about Harambe the gorilla are racist. Harambe is the gorilla from the Cincinnati zoo that was shot after a child fell into his pen. Ellison evidently intends to give no space to that type of nonsense to fester at his institution.
Wrote Ellison in his now-infamous letter:
“Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn, without fear of censorship. You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement. At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.
“Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called “trigger warnings,” we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”
One would think this would be a non-controversial statement, given that these are young adults entering institutions of higher learning. And while many incoming students believe this to be the case, many prefer to keep their head down, get their degree, and be on their way. Ellison’s letter was directed at the small, very vocal, and very organized group of activists who live to enforce their brand of authoritarian censorship. The entire student body suffers under their oppressive reign, and an administrative body that bends like a twig to their demands only fans the flames.
The response from the advocates of on-campus PC totalitarianism has been what one would expect: utter, total, meltdown. The “New Republic” website opined that the University of Chicago is “attacking academic freedom” and ridiculously compared the letter to France’s ban of Muslim bathing suits for women known as “burkinis” at beaches. How author Jeet Heer was able to arrive at that opinion and feel confident enough to print it, only he knows.
It is precisely behavior of this sort that Ellison wants purged from the university in order to preserve academic freedom.
“Heat Street” writer Emily Zanotti described the collective paroxysm induced by Ellison’s letter in the hearts of student activists. “One student told [the website] ‘DNA Info’ that the administration was asking students to ‘check their compassion and their experiences at the door.’ Another, the head of the campus sexual assault survivors network, said that this was simply the latest failure by the college to cater to interest groups. The administration has a huge problem with transparency, and they have been slow to address issues related to sexual violence, disability injustice, police discrimination, and many more,” she said.
One wonders how “compassion” and “experience” are somehow incompatible with academic freedom. So not having the ability to shout down, intimidate, and heckle speakers and other students without receiving punishment somehow threatens their academic freedom? Unfortunately, this behavior has been the norm on campuses throughout the country—but no longer at Chicago, if Ellison can help it.
Many have pointed out that Ellison more than likely had the school’s donors in mind when writing his letter, and that’s no surprise. Universities across the country have seen donors and students turn skittish at the climate of on-campus censorship.
The University of Missouri saw a 25% drop in enrollment as a result of lengthy protests, creating a $36 million funding gap, as reported by the Columbia Tribune.
Why would parents want their kids to attend a school that can’t seem to control mobs of students, much less teachers that enter the fray, like Missouri’s now-fired professor, Melissa Click, who was caught on video urging students to assault another student who happened to be filming the protesters? Why would a student with conservative or libertarian leanings wish to attend an institution of higher learning if there’s a strong chance of becoming the victim of a PC mob bent on enforcing their brand of academic freedom with threats and their fists?
Ellison wants no part of this. Chicago students want no part of this. Time at a university should consist of more than tip-toeing over the delicate feelings of a few activists. Free, non-violent discourse should be the atmosphere of an institution dedicated to enriching students’ lives with a wide range of perspectives. Encountering a PC leviathan screaming, picketing, and threatening those that hold views at odds with their own is something that University of Chicago students might blessedly be safe from, if Ellison has anything to say about it.
Shane Smith is a writer based in Oklahoma.