Students can, and likely will, thrive in an environment that forces them to contend with the ugliness and opposition that exists in our real world. Higher education should no longer be about protecting students from those people, issues, and ideas that threaten them. Rather, it needs to be a place for preparing them to respond in a critical, informed, and civilized manner. My greater worry about a policy or position such as the one demonstrated at the University of Chicago is for the physical and emotional safety of marginalized students. Voicing opposing ideas under the umbrella of scholarship has the potential to lead to confrontation, verbal abuse, and targeted acts of violence outside of the classroom. There can be a price for speaking freely and without censorship. Institutions who promote that ideal must also take every possible step to prevent the potential harm that accompanies it.
The deeper question, what we need to be thinking about is why this proclamation was made. Why now? What is the controversy that led, not only to this letter being written, but to the charge of the committee tasked with discussing it? Are the calls for sensitivity to certain topics or protests against specific speakers really challenging the freedom of speech or are they threatening the status-quo of higher education?
“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,”
"The university’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that robust debate and deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the community, not for the university as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose."
The Reasoning Behind It
Free Expression in Peril
An Argument Against It
Trigger Warning: Elitism, Gatekeeping, and Other Academic Crap
"On the surface, the points seem hard to argue with. Academic freedom is the sine qua non of higher education. Students ought to be challenged, even made uncomfortable, in order to learn in deep and meaningful ways. And, of course, collegiate education is where students must encounter perspectives different from their own. No one who genuinely believes in higher education is going to dispute any of that. And that’s what this Dean and the anti-trigger-warnings, no-safe-spaces crowd are counting on–that the surface veneer of reasonableness in these admonitions to the Class of 2020 will obscure the rotten pedagogy and logical fallacies that infest this entire screed."