The Corner

Brown University President Whiffs the Ball

The University of Chicago received much-deserved attention and praise last month for its forthright defense of academic freedom and free inquiry. In a bracing letter to incoming freshmen, the university informed students that they should expect no “trigger warnings” or “safe spaces” and that speakers with heterodox views would not be barred from the campus. University president Robert J. Zimmer explained in the Wall Street Journal that: 

Universities cannot be viewed as a sanctuary for comfort but rather as a crucible for confronting ideas and thereby learning to make informed judgments in complex environments. Having one’s assumptions challenged and experiencing the discomfort that sometimes accompanies this process are intrinsic parts of an excellent education. Only then will students develop the skills necessary to build their own futures and contribute to society.

Today Brown University president Christina Paxton has weighed in, appearing to agree, but actually betraying her own weakness. She acknowledges that “freedom of expression is an essential component of academic freedom” but then she bogs down. “As scholars and students,” she writes in the Washington Post, “our responsibility is to subject old truths to scrutiny and put forward new ideas to improve them.” That’s an odd understanding of the word truth. Propositions are either true or they’re not. 

Paxton then rejects the suggestion that students “want to be protected from ideas that make them uncomfortable.” No, she urges, “it’s just the opposite . . . our students have addressed topics that make many people very uncomfortable indeed — racism, sexual assault, religious persecution.” Well, yes, but almost entirely from one point of view. When New York Police commissioner Ray Kelly was invited to speak at Brown, he was shouted down. This made Paxton uncomfortable at the time. She issued some pale bleats about free speech — to little apparent effect. One comment in the the student newspaper dismissed “free speech mumbo jumbo.” When Wendy McElroy, a feminist critic of “rape culture,” was invited to speak, students were offered a literal “safe space” with coloring books, Play-Doh, and pictures of puppies. 

Paxton defends trigger warnings and safe spaces, comparing them to “clubs and organizations” for those who “share similar backgrounds and interests.” Clubs don’t shout down speakers or demand changes to the curriculum to suit a social/political agenda. These are weasel words. Chicago’s Zimmer has set the standard. Anything less is unfree speech and indulges the ”cry bullies” who are closing students’ minds. 

Most Popular

Culture

Four No Trump

I went to see Book Club, a multi-pronged romantic comedy that provides a vehicle for four veteran actresses (Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen), and it's not bad if you accept it for what it is. The set-up is that four women who formed a book club in the 1970s have been meeting ... Read More
Culture

Are Americans Too Attached to Their Pets?

Like many Americans, I’m a big fan of dogs. As my wife and I prepare to become empty-nesters, I’ve noticed that we’re spending more time obsessing over our family pooch, perhaps because he actually still wants to hang out with us. In recent years, however, our society’s relationship with pets appears to ... Read More
White House

Trump the Outsider

Yesterday morning, President Donald Trump offered a series of tweets complaining about what he considers the disparate treatment of his presidential campaign compared with Hillary ... Read More
World

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Wins, America Loses

Derek Scissors of AEI has a sour take on the latest turn in U.S.–China trade talks: If there’s good news, it’s that the Trump administration has fallen silent on whether the U.S. will bend our law for China in the ZTE case, which got so much attention last week. That would be a big step backward. But even ... Read More
Culture

Jonathan Swift in a White Suit

In 1965 Tom Wolfe visited Princeton University for a panel discussion of "the style of the Sixties." The author of The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, published that year, was scheduled to appear alongside Günter Grass, Allen Ginsberg, and Paul Krassner. Grass spoke first. The German novelist's ... Read More
Culture

Comedians Are Catching On

The comedians are beginning to catch on. Over the weekend -- just one week after featuring a bevy of top-line Hollywood stars impersonating members of the Trump administration, as well as a cameo by a vengeful Stormy Daniels asking for President Trump’s resignation -- Saturday Night Live finally acknowledged ... Read More
PC Culture

The Nature of Progressive Insensitivity

Former vice president Joe Biden is back in the news yet again. For a second time, he seems surprised that poor residents of the inner city are capable of doing sophisticated jobs: We don't think ordinary people can do things like program, code. It's not rocket science, guys. So, we went and we hired some folks ... Read More
Culture

The Feminization of Everything Fails Our Boys

Let me share with you two troubling — and, I believe, closely linked — news reports. The first, from this weekend, comes courtesy of the American Enterprise Institute’s Mark Perry. In one chart, he highlights the dramatic and growing gender gap in higher education. In short, women are dominating: ... Read More