Students heading to the University of Chicago this fall received a welcome letter from the dean of students, John Ellison, explaining that they might not love everything they heard over the course of their undergraduate studies. They might be confronted with arguments and opinions that challenged their beliefs. They might be involved in discussions that would make them feel uncomfortable. They might even be reminded of traumatic incidents from their past.
All of this, Ellison wrote, was completely normal and completely okay.
“Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn, without fear of censorship,” Ellison said in the letter. “Our commitment to academic freedom means that 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.”
The letter would not have been newsworthy or necessary in any other year; academic freedom has always been the cornerstone of a liberal arts education. Ellison’s welcome is only controversial because, in 2015, left-wing activists suddenly brought the rules of online radical feminism out of Tumblr and into the real world of America’s college campuses. Minority students and their white, straight allies took to their quads in protest, accusing university officials across the country of courting violent bigotry by turning a blind eye to their special needs. Those protests cost several deans their jobs when they proved to be ignorant of the finer points of radfem theory.
But to proponents of college coddling, the letter was a slap in the face.
“The university has been taking some steps to address the toxic climate in terms of racism on campus, sexism on campus,” said student body president Eric Holmberg. “This is a step backward in addressing the toxic campus climate. It seems the university does not want to engage in those ideas.”
Holmberg, like so many other like him, fails to understand two key points. One, the idea that there is a “toxic climate” on campus – that’s just an opinion. It will never be anything other than opinion, even if every single person in the world agrees with it. Opinions are not facts. That’s a concept that eludes activist students and liberal adults alike.
Two, academic freedom means that the university does “want to engage in those ideas.” They want to hear Holmberg’s opinion. They want him to talk about it. What’s the problem?
Well, the problem is that Holmberg doesn’t want his opinion to be treated as an opinion. He wants it to be treated like the fact that he thinks it is. And he doesn’t understand why conservatives get to pretend like their bigoted opinions are just as valid as Holmberg’s indisputable facts.
At the end of the day, that’s what all of this is about. Liberals are driving themselves crazy because the reality in their heads doesn’t match the reality outside their heads, and they can’t come to terms with this schism. So instead of turning the lens inside, where they would quickly find the solution to their misery, they are on a mission to make the outside world match the one in their minds. And since those awful, hateful conservatives are silent in that twisted darkness…it stands to reason that they should be silent in reality as well.
Until and unless these youngsters realize why the world is so unlike their perception of it, they’re going to have a rough go of it. The University of Chicago may not change their opinions about that world, but if the school can show them that their opinions are just opinions, they will have received a priceless education.