A Single Homogenous Opinion on Campus
An April 2015 article at The Onion, a satirical news website, celebrates a (fictitious) school that “encourages a lively exchange of one idea.” Facetiously telling about an invented college, The Onion reported that the (fake) university president said, “As an institution of higher learning, we recognize that it’s inevitable that certain contentious topics will come up from time to time, and when they do, we want to create an atmosphere where both students and faculty feel comfortable voicing a single homogeneous opinion.”
The Onion parody may strike a chord because it is quite close to the truth at many universities. Those who don’t spout accepted progressive mantras find themselves ostracized or silenced at some institutions of higher learning. And a vocal minority can sometimes exert unwarranted power and control.
Colleges today are havens of left-wing thought and those who go against the flow are often discriminated against. Political correctness sometimes runs rampant on campus.
Protect Us From Chick-fil-A
Several colleges have banned Chick-fil-A restaurants simply because the CEO dared to express support for the idea that marriage should remain between one man and one woman. The Student Government Association at Johns Hopkins University is so outraged that a business owner might hold a differing viewpoint about gay marriage than their support of it, that they passed a resolution to deny Chick-fil-A a (hypothetical) spot on campus, although no such project was ever initiated at the Baltimore university. The student government statement said that “visiting prospective and current students, staff, faculty, and other visitors who are members of the LGBTQ+ community or are allies would be subjected to the microaggression of supporting current or future Chick-fil-A development plans.” (TheCollegeFix.com, 4-23-15)
A Cooperative Institutional Research Program survey of 2012 incoming full-time college freshmen found that 75% believe “same-sex couples have a legal right to marry.”
At many colleges, “trigger warnings” are becoming a common way to “protect” students. A trigger warning is a device employed to warn students that something proposed to be discussed or addressed might upset them. An example would be discussing literature that may touch on the subjects of racism, sexism, or homophobia.
One journalist suggests that this sort of “lethal political correctness” might alarm those who have actually experienced authoritarianism or fled from repressive societies. Writing in Commentary magazine (5-6-15), Michael Rubin suggests some “might need trigger warnings for the trigger warnings.” Rubin writes, “in order to protect the mental well-being of those who value liberty, intellectual freedom, and oppose censorship, perhaps it’s time to agree to put trigger warnings ahead of trigger warnings to ensure that no one is inadvertently stressed out by the decline in mental and intellectual maturity and the infantilization of society which trigger warnings represent.”
U. of Michigan and Paddington Bear
The Clint Eastwood-directed movie American Sniper was a hit in theaters and was nominated for several Academy Awards. It tells the story of Navy Seal Chris Kyle, seen by many as a hero. But some students at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor not only chose not to see the movie when a proposed campus screening was offered, they wanted to be certain other students were denied the opportunity to view it. Students, including members of the Muslim Student Association, signed a letter of protest that they sent to the group planning to show the movie. That group cancelled American Sniper.
The University of Michigan student participation group that originally chose to screen American Sniper is described at the campus website as offering “a variety of programs such as arts and crafts, live entertainment, recreational sports, movies, dances, and many other social events catering to the interests of a diverse student population.”
When they received the protest letter, they cancelled the showing, saying, “the impact of the content was harmful, and made students feel unsafe and unwelcome at our program.” Apparently they believed in this case a trigger warning wouldn’t sufficiently protect the delicacy of some students.
But other students made known their opposition to the replacement of American Sniper with a screening of the children’s animated movie Paddington, about a make-believe bear. Their letter to administration said, “As adults at a public university, we should have the option to view this movie if we so choose and have the opportunity to engage on the topics it presents to come to our own conclusions on the subjects.”
The decision to cancel American Sniper didn’t stand. University administrators overruled the cancellation and the movie was shown as originally scheduled. In the end, University of Michigan administrators opted to screen both American Sniper and Paddington, and let the students make their own choice.
Michigan’s head football coach, Jim Harbaugh, said that regardless of what the administration decided, the football team would watch American Sniper. Harbaugh said he is “Proud of Chris Kyle and proud to be an American. And if that offends anybody, then so be it!”
Harbaugh was immediately criticized by Muslim students and later attended a campus meeting with 15 of them. Harbaugh and the students had no comment after the 90-minute meeting that included the coach’s boss and a university vice president. (Detroit Free Press, 5-20-15)
It should be noted that the protest petition that nearly resulted in the Chris Kyle movie being banned on campus was signed by a few more than 200 students. Over 43,000 students attend the university.
A year ago, when University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel took that job, he said in his inaugural address:
This is what great universities do: we encourage all voices, no matter how discomforting the message. It takes far more courage to hear and try to understand unfamiliar and unwelcome ideas than it does to shout down the speaker. You don’t have to agree, but you have to think.
President Schlissel and his administration should be praised for following through on this important aspect of students’ experience.