COMMENTARY: Colleges need to confront the ‘snowflake situation’

The University of Chicago has made it clear that they don’t care if their snowflakes melt. No, this isn’t about winter in Chicago, when there’s lots of snow on the banks of Lake Michigan.

Rather, it’s about the delicate sensibilities of some new college students, who seemingly can’t tolerate or stand experiencing views, opinions or even facts they disagree with.

“I thought I’d be safe here,” one said. He/she wasn’t talking about rape or even being physically safe. She wasn’t talking about a fraternity party, either. Which, by the way, is optional.

No, this might be something as simple as an economics professor telling you that socialism doesn’t work, notwithstanding what U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., contends. Or, to flip it the other way, that Ayn Rand was a pretty mediocre author and that her theories don’t hold up in real life. Or the prof who says Marxism is actually the perfect system because it provides for everyone according to his/her needs.

The University of Chicago, to its credit, has confronted the snowflake situation head-on. Its dean of students, John Ellison, wrote a rather unusual missive to incoming freshmen, which has received fairly wide publicity (front page of The New York Times, for starters), to wit:

Reid K. Beveridge

Reid K. Beveridge

“Welcome and congratulations on your acceptance to the College of the University of Chicago. Earning a place in our community of scholars is no small achievement and we are delighted that you selected Chicago to continue your intellectual journey.

“Once here, you will discover that one of the University of Chicago’s defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression. This is captured in the university’s faculty report on freedom of expression. Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn without fear of censorship. Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others. You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion and even disagreement. At times, this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.

“Our commitment to academic freedom means 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.

“Fostering the free exchange of ideas reinforces a related university priority – building a campus that welcomes people of all backgrounds. Diversity of opinion and background is fundamental strength of our community. The members of our community must have the freedom to espouse and explore a wide range of ideas.”

Dean Ellison’s letter is at odds with political correctness. Plenty of well-known, mostly conservative, speakers have been disinvited at major campuses. One can think of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as one. Another is conservative columnist George Will.

Then, there were the protests at the University of Missouri and Yale. The Mizzou president and chancellor resigned. Yale students were “traumatized” by the thought of Halloween costumes that might offend them. One screamed curses at the faculty “master” of her dormitory. Another squishy place was Wellesley College, Hillary Clinton’s alma mater.

One had to wonder from the beginning what had happened to these college administrators’ spines. They all caved rather than standing up to the students, as their predecessors would have. That young Yalie might well have been expelled. Fortunately, the University of Missouri professor who wanted “muscle” to maintain a “safe space” for protesting students has been fired. But rather than taking minutes or hours, as it should have, it took months and cost two weak-kneed administrators their jobs.

Historically, college wasn’t supposed to be a place where your often-misguided opinions got affirmation. Rather, it was a place where all opinions were exposed to rigorous and searching examination and debate.

Of course, a lot of this is the fault of helicopter parents. These are the parents who insist on their kid going to school near home so they can still live at home where Mom or Dad can save them from their mistakes and fix their crises. This, rather than living in the dorm, where they may draw a freshman roommate they don’t like. These are the parents where, when 18-year-old Sonny Boy gets stopped for underage drinking and the cops find a bag of marijuana in the back seat, Dad calls the mayor to get it fixed.

The final question is this: Why haven’t we heard from the University of Delaware and the various other colleges in this state on this? Squishy presidents, that’s what. In England, they call them “the wets.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Reid K. Beveridge has covered politics in Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Delaware and Washington, D.C. He is now retired at Broadkill Beach.

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