In a piece for Slate this week, a University of Chicago law professor declared that university speech codes actually do treat students like children, and even went so far as to call teachers “dictators” who “control what students say to one another.”
But before you think it’s pretty cool to finally have a conservative/libertarian free-speech ally on that campus, think again. Because this professor actually doesn’t think that this treatment is a problem. In fact, he thinks it’s necessary.
“Students are children,” Eric Posner writes. “Not in terms of age, but in terms of maturity. Even in college, they must be protected like children while being prepared to be adults.”
No, he’s not joking. Posner believes that college students, the vast majority of whom are old enough to join the military and vote, are incapable of surviving on a campus where someone might say something that they don’t like – so incapable that they need official, institution-wide policies in place to protect them from it.
“[Libertarians and conservatives] should be pleased that students are kept from harm’s way, and kept from doing harm, until they are ready to accept the responsibilities of adults,” Posner continues.
But restrictive speech codes aren’t keeping students out of harm’s way, but actually placing them there. They’re conditioning students to expect that they won’t have to encounter anything that upsets them. They’re getting them used to something totally different from reality — a pretty backwards way of preparing them to live in it.
At some schools, it’s even worse. At this point, it’s not just rules that forbid things, there are active campaigns against even the most innocuous language — which in turn makes being offended a “worthy activist” cause. If you’re offended by something, you’re not a weakling — you’re a superior culturally aware social-justice hero!
Still, Posner insists that these codes are also necessary to teach kids good behavior, that they “socialize as well as educate children to act civilly by punishing them if they don’t.”
But guess what? You don’t even need to “socialize” students to not act in a way that upsets others. There’s already an incentive in place to not say things that are going to piss people off: pissing people off. Nobody wants to be hated.
— Katherine Timpf is a reporter at National Review Online.