A Campus of Snitches

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.

41 thoughts on “A Campus of Snitches

  1. Guitardave

    “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?”

    You know the old adage, that a well crafted question usually contains its answer? Nicely done.

    Whinny, snitching rats.
    Entitled little brats.
    Humans without being,
    Eyes open but not seeing.

      1. Guitardave

        Dooh!…. as an unschooled doofus, I often forget about the skills required of the profession you excel in.

  2. Rxc

    Their are lots of opportunities for offense in STEM, starting with master and slave controllers, which, I believe have already been renamed. Then, there are male and female connectors, in piping and electrical engineering. They may have gender-changers associated with them, but the change is imposed by the privileged user. And of course, the physicists have decided that some of the fundamental particles are strange, while others are charmed.

    1. SHG Post author

      I’ve written about engineering curriculum where they dumbed down the math because it was too hard and uninteresting, and they believed it kept women out of STEM.

      1. rxc

        I have hired and worked with a number of women engineers, and they were all top notch. They knew a lot of stuff and were able to communicate better than most of the guys. But this push to get more diversity in STEM will inevitably lead to unqualified people being attracted or pushed into it. If we are really lucky, they will quickly rise up into management and never build anything dangerous. Women can be good managers.

        There are some hints (I have to be careful here) that some significant failures that are associated with diversity have already occurred, but no one walks about them. Nature does not care about feelings – you ignore gravity at your peril.

  3. John

    I’m not sure “snitch” is the right word here. Snitches rat out illegal behavior against a community code of silence. Using the term here implies the professors know what they’re saying is wrong, and the students reporting it are supposed to just let them say it anyway.

    Also, I think the “what is offensive” question is a bit more crucial than the gloss implies. A LARGE percentage of offensive comments are sexist/racist/ageist in nature. Those should always be called out. This tends to conflate that with professorial political speech, which is generally eye-roll worthy but otherwise ignorable.

    1. Sacho

      I see you are a fan of Sachs’ method of arguing. But even assuming the facts in your favor, you’ve just shifted the question from what is “offensive” to what is “sexist/racist ageist” – all extremely malleable definitions that bend at the whimsy of the offended. That’s exactly how you end up with professors surprised at what the students will pillory them for.

      1. SHG Post author

        What makes something “sexist/racist/ageist”? Who decides? If someone (anyone?) says they are, does that make the words unmentionable for the rest of the world? For some people, these are hard questions. For others, they aren’t questions at all, and so there can be nothing wrong with doing whatever is necessary to punish the transgressor.

    2. JRP

      Maybe, but not when the definition of what is “sexist/racist/ageist” keeps changing to fit your objective. Once words can mean anything you want to be offended by I think the term snitches fits. After all snitches are not usually good honest people reporting behavior, but those either guilty of the same and trapped or resentful of others success.

      Happy Fathers day!

      1. SHG Post author

        Snitches don’t have to be malevolent any more than those they snitch on have to be guilty. It’s just the act of telling on someone to a third party to get them in trouble. It’s the act involved, not the evil intent, that makes someone a snitch (or rat, tattletale, informer, etc.).

  4. orthodoc

    You ask, How did we end up with a campus of snitches?

    In 1994, Robert Hughes in his book, The Culture of Complaint, reported that whining on campus has been common for at least 35 years. Two things have changed since then.

    First, in the 80’s and early 90s, the dreck was flung from both sides: political correctness from the left and what Hughes calls patriotic correctness from the right. Now more than ever, the right has been silenced on campus. (Duly chastened, I won’t cite my own experience, but note that Nicholas Christakis recently recalled debating abortion policy in 1982 or so with one his friends in college–and took note that this would be impossible today: no person who did not endorse a right to abortion could be your “friend” these days (or likely admitted to Yale College, I would add.)

    Second, owing to ever-increasing tuition, students are treated more and more like finicky customers, encouraged to call the manager when their sensibilities have been offended.

    PS Steve Cohen has a sensitive and insightful piece in the May issue of The City Journal, “Honor and Loyalty”, on the West Point’ honor code. The code says, “Cadets will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do” –that is, not only avoiding bad behavior, but reporting on friends suspected of violating the rules. Mr Cohen acknowledges the tensions between honor and loyalty. What makes something snitching? Who decides?

    PPS A happy father’s day to you and all fathers in this community.

    1. SHG Post author

      Having gone to college before the ’80s, perhaps I missed the rise of snitch culture. If someone said something that pissed me off, I would tell them to eat my fuck. Then I moved on because life is too short, and too much fun, to squander it on seeking out and perpetuating misery.

      1. JDH

        Because discrimination was never a problem because a white guy never experienced it. Clearly everyone else was just whiny. Also, “seeking out and perpetuating misery”? This entire post is manufacturing outrage out of a meaningless survey. Hell most of this blog is manufactured outrage.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    I’m inclined to think it’s because adolescents on campus are not maturing and remain stuck somewhere in childhood where temper tantrums achieve the desired result and reasoned discourse is too hard.

  6. JDH

    So if you think that a professor who says that women and black students aren’t smart enough for his class shouldn’t be reported to the administration?

    1. SHG Post author

      Is overt racism or sexism an epidemic on campus giving rise to this overwhelming approval of snitching?

      1. JDH

        First, it does happen. Eric Rasmusen and Bo Winegard for example. I see Sandra Sellers has already been mentioned. Second, all the survey means that that most students think that a professor saying obviously offensive things should be reported. They could easily be imagining the professor from my example or something more debatable. The survey results are neither surprising or particularly meaningful. Third, what do you have against the concept of “snitching”? How is a school administration supposed to know about problems if no one tells them anything?

          1. JDH

            Arbitrary declarations of victory, always a mature response to actual facts. And two professors actually saying that women and black people are intellectually inferior are somehow insufficient examples.

            1. SHG Post author

              Your points are here for all to read. Calling your distortions “actual facts” doesn’t make them so, and to anyone familiar with the actual facts, they speak for themselves. People can read your arguments and decide for themselves.

            2. Sgt. Schultz

              After reading your effort, I struggle with one overarching question. Do you actually believe in your delusional grasp of reality or do you feel compelled to argue your ideology and, when you have no remotely sound argument, just twist as hard as you can and hope that nobody notices you’re a blithering idiot?

            3. SHG Post author

              This reflects a concern I’ve had for a while. I realize that some will argue their ideological position to the death, no matter how absurd their argument may be, because that’s become something of the norm for these insipid children. But I also think he actually believes his twisted grasp of “facts” are, indeed, facts. I don’t think that’s a fixable problem.

            4. Sgt. Schultz

              Imagine what it must be like for those profs who haven’t dedicated their psyche to pandering to these nutjobs, having to not only avoid stepping on the landmine of the moment but having some student rat them out to the dean that when they said “Breonna Taylor was killed in her master bedroom,” claim “Prof X said black people should sleep in slave quarters.” And truly believe that’s what was said.

    2. Richard Parker

      It’s 2021 in America. Such a person doesn’t exist. Lies and distortions, on the other hand, abound.

    3. Dan

      I’d be really interested to hear of even one example of this happening in the last five years (heck, even ten).

      1. Hunting Guy

        I think Sandra Sellers at Georgetown is pretty close to this.

        No link per rules but that will find it with Google.

  7. Rengit

    A theory: the kids who are in college now have had their whole social lives mediated heavily through social media, of which all of the major platforms have greatly increased moderation, bannings, blocking, reporting, and so on in the past decade. They’re used to tech companies proactively handling complaints of “offensive” behavior.

    Then combine social media with education law and how kids can be disciplined for anything that causes a substantial disruption to the educational environment, even if it occurs off-campus, so that one student’s online comment to his friends can now be subject to discipline if just one or a handful of students finds out about it and finds it offensive.

    Why would the kids expect all this to suddenly go out the window just because they have turned 18 and gone off to college?

  8. Matt Werner

    Why do you think its okay to call campus police on a person taking a nap in a common room, but not telling the administration that a Professor keeps suggesting that the black and latino students might steal his equipment?

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s sad that the manner of argumentation has devolved to logical fallacies, here false equivalences and strawmen, but I fear that for all the education you’ve been given, this is the best you’re capable of.

    2. Sgt. Schultz

      Why do you think it’s wrong to call the police because there is some random person in a dark room where no one is supposed to be, who might pose a threat of physical harm, but okay telling the administration that a professor mispronounced an odd name?

      If you’re going to be a goofy fool, at least do a better job of it.

  9. Miles

    What you fail to understand Scott is that these are children who have always had an adult around to kiss their skinned knee, tell their playdates to be nice and make sure nothing in their world ever hurt their feelings or made them sad, and they grown up (somewhat) believing two things:

    1. They are entitled to a world where their every belief controls.
    2. They are entitled to a grown up to make it happen for them.

    You see it as snitching. They see it as the way the world works, that they run to mommy (or her substitute) who then makes their world better again. You see snitching as a bad thing. They see it as an completely normal entitlement. Get with the program, old man.

  10. PseudonymousKid

    You toe the fallacy fallacy line so well. Give us what you really think instead of questions that are difficult to answer. Maybe social media broke us and we’re now all scheming cowards looking to take anyone down for any perceived slight in some sort of giant, twisted rat race with no end and no winners. That sounds whimsical enough, a new world mass hysteria. Come on, Pa, I know you want to take a real stab too. Indulge a little.

  11. Bryan Burroughs

    The only “offensive” thing I ever heard from a college professor was a joke in extremely poor taste in band class relating to female paratroopers. Much of the class was taken aback, but I’m not sure anyone complained. I’m fairly certain he would have been fired that day had he uttered that joke in today’s climate.

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