Monthly Archives: June 2016

When Student Activists Refuse to Talk to Campus Newspapers

This February, at a conference attended by the editors of 10 college newspapers along the East Coast—myself among them—student journalists recognized a common obstacle plaguing their publications: Student activists would no longer talk with them.

As student activists call for the institutions around them to confront issues of diversity and inclusion, campus newspapers have been critiqued as well. But activists are not just calling for reform—editors of campus papers are struggling to improve their papers alongside student bodies that, in some cases, would like to see student newspapers as an institution disappear.

Students boycotted the Brown Daily Herald (BDH), where I am a news editor, after it published two racist opinion pieces for which it later apologized. Since then, students have used the publication’s controversial past as reason to refuse comment and even to remove reporters from campus-wide events. These kinds of conflicts have erupted on campuses across the country. Melissa Click, a former assistant professor at the University of Missouri who was eventually fired, tried to stop a student reporter from covering a campus protest. Student activists at Smith College told student journalists they would be barred from a black-solidarity rally unless they vowed to “participate and articulate their solidarity with black students and students of color.” Even a headline can ignite backlash: Yale Daily News (YDN) journalists have struggled to interact with social-justice advocates on campus since the paper ran an article about accusations that a fraternity discriminated against people of color with the headline “SAE denies charges of racism.”

Sometimes the confrontations have resulted in long-term consequences. At Wesleyan University, student activists critiqued the student newspaper, the Argus, when they failed to cover a Black Lives Matter protest in the fall, although the paper had not yet begun its print cycle for the year. Later that year, the Argus published a controversial opinion piece that prompted the student government to cut its funding in half.  As the paper attempted to ramp up its coverage of events centering on students of color in response to student demands from early that fall, it was further stonewalled, according to Rebecca Brill, the newspaper’s former editor-in-chief. “We were trying to fix this thing that was a valid critique of us,” she said, “but the people who were critiquing us weren’t letting us talk to them.”

Across the country, students have called for meaningful changes within campus publications to support marginalized communities, or even the disbanding of their student newspapers, from colleges like the University of Arizona to Dartmouth. Several editors from publications attending the conference declined to comment for this article, fearing they would jeopardize progress made in working with communities of student activists.

And while certain activists acknowledge their student newspaper’s attempts to correct any lapses in coverage, many have still put pressure on student reporters to adapt to their demands. “Until we see a willingness to engage journalism in a much more … social justice-oriented way, it’s hard to trust [student newspapers] to protect or be mindful of the issues that we face,” said Justice Gaines, a trans student activist at Brown whose activism focuses on issues of race, gender, and sexuality.

But that philosophy creates a catch-22 for editors. “I don’t know if it’s fair to demand representation … but then deny the paper that permission by refusing to speak to them,” Brill said. “We can’t have better representation unless there’s cooperation.” This cooperation requires the trust of these student sources. Still, for some marginalized students, and particularly students of color, campus newspapers are emblematic of institutional media as a whole—an industry that in their experience has tended to delegitimize their narratives.

Language that student activists say misconstrues their narratives regularly appears in the coverage of campus activism, by both mass media and college newspapers. And according to a 1999 study by the University of Minnesota, such language can delegitimize the arguments of protesters challenging the status quo. Reporters often use terms like “coddled” and “complaining” when describing modern-day student activists who are pushing their universities to address issues of diversity and inclusion. Journalists may not see “that we actually have valid points and things we want to change,” said Ivetty Estepan, a student activist at Yale who focuses on issues of racism and marginalization.

Some student activists also view their campus newspaper as symbolic of the university as an institution—whether their paper receives funding from the administration or student government, or is independent, like the BDH and the YDN. “There’s this idea that the YDN has been a part of Yale as an institution for … hundreds of years, so how much does that influence it?” Estepan said.

And just like the college administrations that have been critiqued in recent years by student activists, student newspapers lack diversity in their newsrooms. This dearth of diversity is maintained by a vicious cycle; newsrooms bereft of underrepresented minorities may, through their coverage or image, engender backlash from racial-justice activists that in turn can discourage underrepresented students from joining the papers’ ranks. A 2007 study of journalists from communities of color working at four large-circulation newspapers showed that a lack of newsroom diversity undermines reporters’ ability to represent their communities in their journalism.

This tension is evident in a recent survey from Gallup and two journalism advocacy organizations—the Knight Foundation and the Newseum Institute—of student opinions on First Amendment rights and offensive speech. The study found that people from marginalized groups were more likely to favor limiting free speech on campus, and 44 percent of students believe it is acceptable to restrict the media’s access to campus events because the activists want to tell the story themselves on social media. “You lose agency when you tell the media what is going on,” Estepan said.

The media’s unwillingness to take a stance when reporting on issues of oppression represents a kind of “institutional bias,” said Warren Harding, a graduate student at Brown involved in the activism that led to the school’s adoption of a $165 million diversity-and-inclusion plan. “Especially when it comes to anti-racism work or anti-oppression work, when a newspaper says they are trying to be objective, that means they are upholding standards that were set against people who have been oppressed,” Gaines, the Brown student activist, echoed. Stories that describe the experiences of injustice and violence merit a journalist who will ethically stand in solidarity, Harding argued.

But that, too, raises questions: Which stories would a journalist then choose to slant, and which would they not? At that point, what separates that source from an opinion blog, or social media? Journalists do not claim to be unbiased. We believe that the process of seeking out a variety of perspectives and approaching an article without explicitly including biases leads to a more productive and balanced discussion of the news. “Coming close to objectivity can be enough,” Brill, the former Argus editor, said.

Still, about half of the students in the Gallup survey also said that they would be comfortable limiting press access to an event if the reporter was “biased.” That worries people like Gene Policinski, the chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute.“Simply saying we won’t talk to someone because we don’t like their viewpoint ultimately constrains your voice,” he said.

And that mindset fails to acknowledge that by working with a student journalist, activists’ voices can reach much further than through social media alone—campus publications not only serve the student body, but also a wide network of administrators, faculty, and alumni, in addition to the surrounding community. What starts out as a story at a student newspaper is often picked up by national news sources who can feed momentum into activist efforts.

Furthermore, student activists who block journalists find themselves on shaky ground with the First Amendment. Technically, a journalist operating within a newspaper independent from a school has no right of access at a private institution, said Frank LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center. But when that journalist is also a student, she has the right to access the same spaces as other students (such as classrooms used for community-wide events). Only the university itself would have the authority to bar a student journalist from an event. But most private universities promise protections in line with those of the First Amendment when it comes to speech in public, said Robert Shibley, the executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, which defends free speech and academic freedom on campus. “If a student who’s not part of the media could attend … I’d say the argument for keeping the media out is nonexistent,” he said.

And whether it’s by barring journalists from events or defunding their newspapers, activists are ultimately putting themselves at a disadvantage by attempting to dissolve their student newspapers. Learning how to reform the student press alongside the students working there proves a goal ultimately more beneficial to both parties. Campus newspapers, according to several student journalists, are in a prime position to respond to the demands of their college communities and experiment with the rules of traditional journalism. Operating without the extra weight of bureaucracy felt by larger publications, student newspapers have the opportunity—and even the responsibility—to respond to the concerns of their audiences, Gaines argued.

Often, changes come as a direct response to the actions of student activists, who use their position of power to negotiate terms with student newspapers that they expressly disagree with. In the fall of 2015, the BDH changed its style to accommodate gender-neutral pronouns like xe, xem, and xyr. The change came after Gaines, an oft-quoted source for the BDH, refused to comment again unless the newspaper agreed to change its style. “There’s a tension between utilizing the BDH and challenging the BDH,” Gaines said. “There’s room to use the BDH as a mechanism to change the BDH.”

In her time at the Argus, Brill attempted to incorporate input from Wesleyan’s community and balance student demands for increased representation of marginalized perspectives with a commitment to ensuring all voices have a platform. This year, the paper created a column called “Voices” reserved for the opinion pieces of marginalized students. Still, though, the defunding of the Argus poses a significant threat to the paper. “They had an opportunity at Wesleyan to … try to make the newspaper better, and instead they tried to destroy it,” the SPLC’s LoMonte said. “Our belief is that while newspapers are always imperfect, and can always do a better job of serving minority communities, those communities are much better off with a well-funded newspaper than without.”

from The Atlantic

The technology of higher education

For nearly 30 years, pundits have predicted that education technology would disrupt higher education. Online courses will reduce costs and create unprecedented access to higher education, so the argument goes. Likewise, adaptive learning will improve — or replace — the art of teaching as the right digital content is delivered at the right time to each individual learner.

It’s looking increasingly like none of these are the game-changers we expected. While online learning is commonplace, higher education remains firmly in the crosshairs of critics targeting high tuition, student debt, poor completion rates and unemployed and underemployed graduates — demonstrating a growing skills gap.

But all is not lost. It may be that technology’s transformation of higher education lies not in the transformation of teaching and learning, but the advent of a new digital language that connects higher education and the labor market and, in so doing, exerts profound changes on both.

The historic disconnect between higher education and the needs of the labor market is a data problem. In the past, data translating the discrete skills or competencies that employers need was not easily available or meaningful to faculty who create courses, or the students who take them.

Meanwhile, hiring managers have consistently relied on signals supported by anecdotal evidence, at best — for example, assuming that philosophy majors from Brown made terrific analysts, or that teachers with master’s degrees performed better in the classroom.

Today, technology is changing the relationship between education and the workforce in four distinct ways.

First, competency data is becoming increasingly available. Online psychometric assessments, e-portfolios and micro-credentials are surfacing student competencies beneath the level of the terminal credential (i.e. degree). In addition, many colleges and universities are in the process of migrating to competency-based models, which will allow for the output of transcripts that better describe the competencies of graduates.

No longer will students fork over $200,000 in tuition for a standard four-year bundle.

Second, there is a clear path for employers to interact with this new data. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are incorporating analytics and will soon begin gathering new competency data as inputs for assembling candidate pools for human hiring managers to evaluate. As such, ATS is transitioning from a backwater of HR technology to Application Information Systems that will radically reduce the preponderance of false positives and false negatives in candidate pools, thereby significantly reducing bad hires that cost employers about $15,000 each, on average.

Third, this data is being extracted and parsed into competency statements by algorithms originally developed for purposes other than human capital development (i.e. search, e-commerce). On the other side, the same algorithms are extracting and parsing competency statements from job descriptions, then matching the two.

Of course, regardless of the caliber of student competency data, matching students with jobs only works if employers’ job descriptions accurately capture and describe key competencies. So the fourth major development is the advent of “People Analytics” technologies, allowing employers to track employee performance with a feedback loop to job descriptions. The result is that job descriptions continuously improve, moving from vague and data-poor to precise, data-rich renderings of the profiles of top performers.

Together, these four technological developments will close the gap between higher education and the labor market and usher in a new era in human capital.  The resulting “competency marketplaces” will help students understand the jobs and careers that they’re most likely to match and help employers identify students who are on track, or on a trajectory to match in the future.

Competency marketplaces will inform students’ direction through postsecondary education by providing a human capital GPS to help them select which credentials, courses, assessments, projects or virtual internships move them most efficiently and effectively toward target professions or employers.

The core of the competency marketplace is the candidate or student profile. Your profile will include your resume and transcript, along with badges, projects, the results of standardized tests taken over the course of your life (SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT) or new industry- or employer-specific micro-assessments. Students with more comprehensive profiles (i.e. more competency data) will be given preference by employers via the ATS. Colleges and universities that fail to recognize this may find that their students are at a relative disadvantage in the labor market and, over time, may face enrollment pressure.

The market for competencies will ultimately put unprecedented pressure on colleges and universities to unbundle the degree. As employers move to competency-based hiring, many will determine that degrees are not a priority — or even required for certain jobs. Over the next few years, degrees will become MIA in many job descriptions.

Unbundling doesn’t mean liberal arts will disappear. It may be that liberal arts courses provide high-value competencies that predict career success across many professions. But it does mean that revenue per student will decline, and that colleges and universities will need to work a lot harder and be a lot more creative to capture the lifetime value of student-consumers. No longer will students fork over $200,000 in tuition for a standard four-year bundle. Postsecondary education will become increasingly affordable. Completion rates will rise. Placement will improve.  This is how technology will ultimately disrupt higher education.

While this seems like the stuff of science fiction, it is not far off. Millions of new job descriptions are posted online every month. Colleges and universities are issuing millions of micro-credentials, millions of students are posting work in e-portfolios. Thousands of employers use Applicant Tracking Systems that are transitioning to Applicant Information Systems.

As the new language of competencies disrupts higher education, we will need to be vigilant to protect the central role that our colleges and universities play in civil society and economic development. At the same time, colleges and universities must take no comfort in the fact that prior predictions of technological disruption have proven false. This time really is different.

Featured Image: Andrea Danti/Shutterstock

from TechCrunch

‘Fisher’ in Context: Making Sense of the Decision – The Chronicle of Higher Education

How might the Supreme Court’s latest ruling change the college-admissions landscape? Get up to speed with a collection of past Chronicle coverage.

Source: ‘Fisher’ in Context: Making Sense of the Decision – The Chronicle of Higher Education

What Should the Standard of Proof Be in Campus Rape Cases?

A college student is accused of rape or sexual harassment by a classmate and denies the allegation. A campus investigation follows. At the end of the process, the presiding administrator must judge whether the charges against the accused have merit.

What standard of proof should be used?

That’s one of the key questions posed in Doe v. Lhamon, a federal lawsuit filed by a former University of Virginia law student and the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education.

The lawsuit seeks to overturn recent efforts by the Department of Education to lower the standard of proof in sexual-misconduct cases, forcing institutions of higher education to determine culpability based on a “preponderance of the evidence.” Under that standard, students are found culpable and punished if the chance that sexual misconduct occurred is even slightly more likely than that it did not occur.

In criminal cases, allegations must be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Prior to the Department of Education’s push, many institutions of higher education required “clear and convincing evidence” to find a student guilty of sexual misconduct.

Princeton University required “clear and persuasive evidence.”

But starting in 2011, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights began to insist that colleges would run afoul of Title IX and risk losing federal funding unless they adjudicated cases using the weaker “preponderance of the evidence” standard.

A 2014 communication reaffirmed the change.

The Department of Education’s actions were part of a larger effort to decrease sexual assault on college campuses by threatening institutions with the loss of federal funds if they didn’t making sweeping changes to their disciplinary procedures.

Most institutions complied. But critics say that students are now being denied due process. After Harvard University revised its sexual-misconduct policy, for example, numerous members of its law faculty signed a protest letter declaring that “we find the new sexual harassment policy inconsistent with many of the most basic principles we teach. We also find the process by which this policy was decided and imposed on all parts of the university inconsistent with the finest traditions of Harvard University, of faculty governance, and of academic freedom.”

Another group of law professors from numerous institutions of higher education co-signed an open letter objecting that the Office of Civil Rights “unlawfully expanded the nature and scope of institutions’ responsibility to address sexual harassment”––a procedural objection––“thereby compelling institutions to choose between fundamental fairness for students and their continued acceptance of federal funding.”

They added:

…relentless pressure on institutions to respond aggressively to sexual assault allegations has undermined the neutrality of many campus investigators and adjudicators by forcing them to consider the broader financial impact of their actions. In an effort to preclude a costly Title IX investigation, some institutions interrogate accused students before informing them of the specific conduct code they are alleged to have violated and many deny them access to witnesses or potentially exculpatory evidence. In the aftermath, innocent suspended and expelled students have become mired “in academic and professional
limbo,” impairing or destroying their access to a college education, thereby relegating them to a lifetime of diminished income and social stigmatization as sexual offenders.

Some students who were found guilty in campus proceedings sued their colleges, claiming that their due process rights were violated, and won victories in court.

The complaint in Doe v. Lhamon states that the plaintiff, John Doe, had a sexual encounter with Jane Roe on August 23, 2013. A year-and-a-half later, on March 6, 2015, Roe alleged misconduct, saying that due to alcohol consumption she could not consent to sexual activity. Doe responded that on the night in question, Roe did not appear to be intoxicated let alone incapacitated. UVA investigated the matter.

Previously, the university had used a “clear and convincing” standard. According to an old student handbook, that standard “means that the claim is highly probable and has produced a firm belief or conviction that the allegations in question are true.” But due to changes undertaken at the behest of the Department of Education, the Doe case was decided on the “preponderance of the evidence.”

Says the complaint:

On January 20, 2016, Ms. Roe’s claims were adjudicated during a nine-hour hearing.

The adjudicator––a retired justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania––called the matter a “very close” and “very difficult case.” She found Mr. Doe responsible, she said, because the evidence “slightly” tipped in favor of responsibility, and she was “required” by “the Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Education” to apply “the weakest standard of proof” available––preponderance of the evidence––which is satisfied whenever the evidence is “tipped very slightly” in favor of responsibility.

The adjudicator also explained that two other commonly used evidentiary standards––the “clear and convincing” evidence standard and the “reasonable doubt” standard––would “tip the scale much more,” thereby indicating that, but for UVA’s mandated use of the preponderance standard, Mr. Doe would not have been found responsible.

After explaining why, in her view, the evidence before her “made it slightly more likely than not” that Mr. Doe had not properly obtained “effective consent” from Ms. Roe given her intoxication, the adjudicator again emphasized, at the end of her ruling, that the case was a close one. She stated that its closeness “will be reflected by me in any sanction that I impose.”

Ultimately, Doe was sentenced to four months counseling and a lifetime ban from all UVA property and activities. He subsequently took and passed the Virginia State Bar and was awarded his degree. His lawsuit argues that both the ban and what he says is the unjust label of someone who has committed sexual assault will affect him for the rest of his life, and that he would not have been found culpable if not for the lower standard of proof demanded by the Department of Education.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has a substantive interest in the case, declaring in a statement, “OCR has acted as though decreasing due process rights will increase justice. In fact, the opposite is true. Real people’s lives are being irreparably harmed.” But its legal argument is largely procedural––that is, it argues that the Office of Civil Rights is required by law “to notify the public of proposed rules and solicit feedback before imposing new obligations on regulated entities, like colleges and universities. OCR did not fulfill this obligation.”

Put another way, regardless of whether the newly relaxed standard of proof is superior or inferior, FIRE argues that the way in which the federal government imposed it was unlawful––the same procedural objection raised by the law professors in their 2014 letter. Time will tell whether that procedural argument carries the day.

On the substantive question, though, I’ve read about too many cases of wrongful convictions in the criminal-justice system, where the accused are afforded a right-to-counsel and the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof, to think that “a preponderance of the evidence” is sufficient in proceedings with no right to counsel.

I’m also struck by a little-discussed way in which “beyond a reasonable doubt” and “clear and convincing evidence” differ from “preponderance of the evidence.”

Under the stronger standards, it’s possible to find against an accuser without implying or seeming to imply that he or she is a liar. After all, a “not guilty” finding could mean that there was strong evidence, but that it did not meet the high standard of proof that the institution imposed as a safeguard against wrongly punishing innocents.

Whereas under a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, an adjudicator who finds against an accuser is arguably saying that it’s more likely than not that he or she is lying (though it is technically possible that the evidence is split right down the middle).

I suspect that will cause many adjudicators to feel some pressure, if only self-imposed, to render verdicts that validate the claims of accusers––pressure that either endangers innocents or is a long overdue corrective to “rape culture,” depending on your perspective. I wonder if accusers whose accusations are not validated will find it harder to bear. Regardless, if the “preponderance of the evidence” standard survives both litigation and debate, it ought to at least be paired with procedural reforms that guarantee that the accused on campuses are transparently told the charges against them, given access to evidence, allowed legal representation, and otherwise afforded at least the same rights and safeguards against injustice that they’d have in a civil case with comparable stakes.

An earlier version of this piece erroneously used "burden of proof" rather than "standard of proof" in a few places.

from The Atlantic

The Chilling Effect of Fear at America’s Colleges

No great universities exist in the world without a deep institutional commitment to academic freedom, free inquiry, and free expression. For the past 60 years, American research universities have been vigilant against external and internal attempts to limit or destroy these values. The First Amendment scholar Geoffrey Stone has noted that free expression, in one form or another, has been continually under attack on campuses for the past 100 years. Today, these core university values are being questioned again, but from a new source: the students who are being educated at them.

What explains this recent outcry against free expression on campus? Multiple possible explanations exist, of course, including the hypothesis that parents have coddled a generation of youngsters to the point where students feel that they should not be exposed to anything harmful to their psyches or beliefs. Whether or not these psychological narratives are valid, there are, I believe, additional cultural, institutional, and societal explanations for what is going on. And the overarching theme is that today’s youngsters, beginning in preschool, are responding to living in a contrived culture of fear and distrust.

There’s hardly consensus among students on the forms or appropriateness of these restrictions on speech. Today, nearly half of a random sample of roughly 3,000 college students surveyed by Gallup earlier this year are supportive of restrictions on certain forms of free speech on campus, and 69 percent support disciplinary action against either students or faculty members who use intentionally offensive language or commit “microagressions”—speech they deem racist, sexist, or homophobic. According to a free-speech survey conducted by Yale last year, of those who knew what trigger warnings are, 63 percent would favor their professors using them—by attaching advisories to the books on their reading lists that might offend or disrespect some students, for example—while only 23 percent would oppose. Counterintuitively, liberal students are more likely than conservative students to say the First Amendment is outdated.

Consider a few recent cases: Brown University, Johns Hopkins University, Williams College, and Haverford College, among others schools, withdrew speaking invitations, including those for commencement addresses, because students objected to the views or political ideology of the invited speaker. Brandeis University began to monitor the class of a professor who had explained that Mexican immigrants to the United States are sometime called “wetbacks,” a comment about the history of a derogatory term that outraged some Mexican American students. Black students at Princeton University protested against the “racial climate on campus” and demanded that Woodrow Wilson’s name be removed from its school of Public and International Affairs. The chilling effect of these kind of restrictions on speech were not lost in 1947 on Robert Hutchins, the president of the University of Chicago, who opined during the McCarthy period: “The question is not how many professors have been fired for their beliefs, but how many think they might be.”

Born in the mid-1990s, seniors in my Columbia University undergraduate seminars today likely have not experienced major national threats, except for their vague memories of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Yet these “millennials” might better be labeled “children of war and fear.” During their politically conscious lifetime, they have known only a United States immersed in protracted wars against real and so-called terrorists, a place where fear itself influences their attitudes toward other civil liberties. Students are asked to pit freedom of expression or privacy against personal security. During times when elected officials have exploited the public’s fear of terrorism for political gain, students seem more willing to trade civil liberties for a sense of security.

Since the 9/11 tragedy, the use of fear is still pervasive in the United States. Indeed, the distortion of fear pervades today’s students’ thinking—they tend to overestimate, for example, the probability of a terrorist attack affecting them. When this fear is combined with the rapid expansion of social media and the prevalence of government surveillance, students often dismiss concepts like “privacy” as old-fashioned values that are irrelevant to them, In fact, my experience at Columbia suggests that many students believe that the very idea of privacy is obsolete; most of my students don’t seem to mind this loss when it’s weighed against uncovering potential terrorists.

Add to this apprehension the fears that so many students of color experienced before college—a rational fear of the police, of racial stereotypes, of continual exposure to epithets and prejudice—and it is no wonder that they seek safe havens. They may have expected to find this safe haven in college, but instead they find prejudice, stereotyping, slurs, and phobic statements on the campuses as well. Additionally, many of these students employ the classification of “the insider.” Believing that “outsiders” cannot possibly understand the situation that faces these groups of offended individuals, by virtual of race, gender, ethnicity, or some other category, the students often dismiss the views of their professors and administrators who can’t “get it” because they are not part of the oppressed group.

Many of the young adults at highly selective colleges and universities have been forced to follow a straight and narrow path, never deviating from it because of a passion unrelated to school work, and have not been allowed, therefore, to live what many would consider a normal childhood—to play, to learn by doing, to challenge their teachers, to make mistakes. Their families and their network of friends and social peers have placed extreme pressure on them to achieve, or win in a zero-sum game with their own friends. While it’s difficult to assess the cases, and while myriad factors likely contribute to the poor mental health among college students, in 2015 roughly 18 percent of undergraduates reported being diagnosed or treated for anxiety in the past year, according to the American College Health Association’s 2015 annual survey; the rate was 15 percent for depression. Many are taking anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication upon entry into college.

But there is a different, though equally important, reason many students today are willing to suppress free expression on campus. And the fault largely lies at the feet of many of the country’s academic leaders. Students and their families have been increasingly treated as “customers.” Presidents of colleges and universities have been too reluctant to “offend” their customers, which may help explain why they so often yield to wrong-headed demands by students. Courage at universities is, unfortunately, a rare commodity—and it’s particularly rare among leaders of institutions pressured by students to act in a politically correct way.

It seems that the vast majority of presidents and provosts of the finest U.S. universities have not seized this moment of concern voiced by students as a teaching moment—a moment to instruct and discuss with students what college is about. Too many academic leaders are obsessed with the security of their own jobs and their desire to protect the reputation of their institution, and too few are sufficiently interested in making statements that may offend students but that show them why they are at these colleges—and why free expression is a core and enabling value of any higher-learning institution that considers itself of the first rank. Of course, there are strong academic leaders who do encourage open discussions of issues raised by students while also speaking out against restrictions on campus speech, against speech codes, safe-space psychology, and micro-aggressions. But they are too few and far between.

Students want to be protected against slurs, epithets, and different opinions from their own—protected from challenges to their prior beliefs and presuppositions. They fear not being respected because of a status that they occupy. But that is not what college is about. While some educators and policymakers see college primarily as a place where students develop skills for high-demand jobs, the goal of a college education is for students to learn to think independently and skeptically and to learn how to make and defend their point of view. It is not to suppress ideas that they find opprobrious. Yet students are willing to trade off free expression for greater inclusion and the suppression of books or speech that offend—even if this means that many topics of importance to their development never are openly discussed.

Of all of America’s great universities, the University of Chicago seems to have come the closest historically to getting this right. The school’s well-known 1967 Kalven Committee report was, I believe, correct when it stated: “The mission of the university is the discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge. Its domain and scrutiny includes all aspects and all values of society. A university faithful to its mission will provide enduring challenges to social values, policies, practices, and institutions. By design and by effect, it is the institution which creates discontent with the existing social arrangements and proposes new ones. In brief, a good university, like Socrates, will be upsetting.” Almost 50 years later, at the request of its President Robert Zimmer, The University of Chicago again articulated its position on “freedom of expression.” The short document quotes the historian and former Chicago president, Hanna Holborn Gray: “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable, it is made to make them think. Universities should be expected to provide the conditions within which hard thought, and therefore strong disagreement, independent judgment, and the questioning of stubborn assumptions, can flourish in an environment of the greatest freedom.” “In a word,” the report goes on, “the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed.” Yet students may be signaling that their commitment to “community” values may take precedence over this core value that many administrators have seen as essential for truly great institutions of learning.

A physically safe environment is an absolutely necessary condition for heated debate over ideas. The university cannot tolerate violations of personal space, physical threats, sustained public interruptions of speakers, or verbal epithets directed toward specific students; that lies beyond the boundaries of academic freedom. That doesn’t mean, however, that a college or university should introduce policies that will curtail or chill debate, that adhere to the politically correct beliefs of the moment, or that let their leaders off the hook through capitulation to “demands” that stifle discourse and conversations about what a university education aims to produce.

from The Atlantic