Phi Beta Cons

Thin Skin Threatens Free Speech

UC-Berkeley chancellor Nicholas Dirks recently attracted criticism after he sent students and faculty an e-mail attempting to honor the 50th anniversary of the university’s Free Speech Movement. Critics contend that his message, titled “Civility and Free Speech,” brimmed with equivocation and political correctness and amounted to a lukewarm defense of free speech. Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that Dirks’s e-mail is “another example of the ambivalence and even outright hostility toward free expression found too often on today’s campuses.” 

George Leef, in a recent See Thru Edu piece, argues that one of the most worrisome aspects of such ambivalence is that it fosters intellectual bigotry on the part of campus communities. “Whether or not Chancellor Dirks intends to, he is encouraging thin-skinned students who are intolerant of ideas that conflict with theirs to complain when others say things they find ‘hurtful’ – such as that ‘affirmative action’ is a bad policy,” he writes. 

Leef is on point. His words call to mind the “disinvitation season” that occurred earlier this year, when several universities disinvited commencement speakers whose previous words or deeds offended one powerful campus constituency or another. That students and faculty members with delicate sensibilities should be shielded from ideas or people challenging their worldview is a dangerous and disturbing notion and one that’s gaining wider and wider acceptance. 

Jesse Saffron — Jesse Saffron is a writer and editor for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, a North Carolina-based think tank dedicated to improving higher education in the Tar ...

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