I would like to think I’m a bigger person than to indulge in schadenfreude, but I have my moments of weakness. One of them is when I hear from a prof who begins his story with his bona fides as a believer in social justice and ends with his being accused of some outrageous offense that’s so unfair. They can’t see me over the telephone, but I find myself involuntarily smiling.
What did you think would happen when you indulged the little shits in their narcissistic belief that they were entitled to seek and destroy anyone who uttered heresy?
At Reason, Robby Soave notes an interesting new campus survey.
While most students think their professors adequately encourage diverse viewpoints in the classroom, don’t want speakers disinvited from campus, and are comfortable sharing controversial opinions, 85 percent of liberals think professors who say something offensive should be reported to the university.
That’s according to a new survey of student attitudes conducted by North Dakota State University’s Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth. Many of the results were positive: Most students—both liberals and conservatives—said their professors create environments that allow for many different viewpoints to be shared. Large majorities also opposed the rejection of controversial speakers from campus.
The survey leaves much to be desired, not the least of which is its failure to define what constitutes “offensive” speech. Are these “many different viewpoints” all that different, or merely variations on the same view? Who knows?
What makes these questions significant is that at the same time as the survey suggests that students are open to controversial ideas and speech, they simultaneously feel a duty to rat out their profs and each other.
Probably the most concerning result was that 70 percent of students—85 percent of liberals, 41 percent of conservatives, and 65 percent of those classified as “independent/apolitical”—wanted professors reported to the administration for making offensive statements. Most students also felt this way about other students who said offensive things.
It’s hard to reconcile a campus that claims, on the one hand, to welcome diverse viewpoints, but on the other hand, overwhelmingly wants to snitch on anyone expressing them. The risk for academic freedom seems fairly obvious, as any word that some student objects to carries the potential for some serious consequences. Is this a serious problem?
Jeffrey Sachs, a lecturer at Acadia University who occasionally offers thoughtful critiques of my articles about the size of the campus free speech problem, tells me not to make too much of these findings.
Robby is kinder to Sachs than I am, but then, I’m kind of a stickler about logical fallacies, and that’s the only kind of logic Sachs employs.
“There’s a significant problem that makes the findings difficult to interpret,” says Sachs. “We know that to a large extent, students sort themselves into majors, social networks, and so forth according to their politics. Liberals are more likely to go into humanities and social sciences, whereas conservatives will gravitate toward STEM and professional studies. It’s not a hard and fast law, but it’s generally a strong correlation. The upshot is that it means something very different when a professor says something offensive or controversial in a political science course vs. a mathematics course. Which means that when you ask students a question like the one posed in the survey, ‘If a professor says something that students find offensive, should the professor be reported to the university?’, respondents will imagine something very different depending on their major and general classroom experience.”
Begging the question? Correlation does not imply causation? Where is the evidence of “we know that” because we don’t know that? Sachs has a nasty habit of starting with a facile assumption and then using it as the basis for his facile conclusion. Then again, he teaches on the humanities side where objective facts go to die.
Even so, there is nothing in Sachs’ argument to suggest how or why this isn’t a problem for academic freedom, diversity of thought and the ease with which any particular student will take offense at any particular word or idea. It may well be true that sociology majors are more inclined to hold a lower threshhold of offensiveness than a physics major. So what? Even if the opportunity to be offensive is more limited in STEM disciplines, it neither precludes it from happening nor makes the threat of being ratted out by your most delicate student any more chilling.
What do students find “offensive”? What are they talking about when they responded to the survey that they are in favor of an environment that allows for different viewpoints and controversial speakers, but will rush to the dean’s office to snitch on their prof or fellow student if they feel offended? I could indulge my whimsy like Sachs, or schadenfreude as when a woke prof informs me that his sensitive students turned on him, but instead, I pose the question of why so many students perceive the solution to being offended to run to their substitute daddy and demand “justice” rather than just tell their prof or fellow student that they have an issue?
How did we end up with a campus of snitches rather than slowly maturing adolescents trying to deal with their issues by taking it up with whomever offended them like, you know, human beings? I bet Sachs has an excuse for that as well.