26 January 2016

Katha Pollitt: The Schools Where Free Speech Goes to Die

Some of the worst offenders against the First Amendment are religious colleges.

 Trigger warnings, safe spaces, micro-aggressions—in 2015, pundits, politicians, and other serious people had a lot of fun bemoaning academia as a liberal la-la land where hands are held and minds are coddled. I’m rather old-school when it comes to free expression. I didn’t go for author and Northwestern professor Laura Kipnis’s notorious essay cheering professor-student affairs, but surely it was overkill for grad students to bring charges against her under Title IX for having a “chilling effect” on student victims’ willingness to come forward. Wouldn’t writing a letter to the editor have sufficed? As for dropping Ovid’s Metamorphoses from the Literature Humanities core class at Columbia after students demanded trigger warnings about its accounts of rape: Wasn’t it bad enough that Ovid was shipped off to Romania? Must his beautiful poems follow him into exile?

 Attacks on “political correctness” champion educational values: the importance of grappling with challenging ideas and texts, mixing it up with different kinds of people, expanding your worldview, facing uncomfortable facts. How will students grow into strong, independent adults in a tough and complex world if they’ve spent four years lying on a mental fainting couch? Good question. There’s a whole swath of academia, though, that gets left out of the discussion, despite the fact that its restrictions on speech and behavior, on what is taught in the classroom or argued in a lecture series, would make Yale and Northwestern and the rest look like New Orleans during Mardi Gras. I’m referring, of course, to evangelical and Catholic colleges.


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