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What We’re Reading: September 2019

Schools are back in session, and the conversation about campus free expression has been renewed through the publication of two books by leading academics. The books offer different diagnoses of the threats to open inquiry and dialogue on campus: The Assault on American Excellence by Yale Law School Sterling Professor of Law and former dean Anthony Kronman, and Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College Campuses by Wesleyan University president Michael S. Roth. While both Kronman and Roth agree that robust campus discourse is something more than a “marketplace of ideas,” they present sharply different approaches to fostering a culture of free expression.

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Campus Happenings

Cornell University Core Values

Office of the President | Cornell University | Summer 2019

Cornell University joins over 60 other schools in adopting a statement affirming free expression: “Free and open inquiry and expression … even of ideas some may consider wrong or offensive” is among the six values enumerated in the new statement of Cornell University Core Values. President Martha Pollack announced the Cornell University Core Values in a letter to the campus community.

State and Federal Policies

UW Student Groups Say Bill Protecting Free Speech on Campus Unnecessary

Rich Kremer | Wisconsin Public Radio | August 15, 2019

Wisconsin Republican lawmakers are seeking cosponsors for a bill that would direct the Board of Regents to establish policies to discipline those who disrupt campus speakers. Critics say the bill is unnecessary. A UW-Milwaukee Student Association leader is quoted, “This is already a policy that was accepted by the UW regents and at this point, I just think it’s an unnecessary overstep by the state Legislature.”

Op-Ed and Thought Pieces

Campus Conservatives Aren’t Under Siege—But There’s More to the Story

Matthew Woessner and Robert Maranto | NBC News THINK | August 14, 2019

The authors find that right-leaning students are not besieged on campuses, but that higher education often leaves left-leaning students at a disadvantage because they are not challenged to reconsider and refine the views they brought to campus as freshmen. As well, they suggest that research findings that support conservative critiques face a stiffer review process and path to publication.

Look South for Diversity on College Campuses

Samuel J. Abrams | James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal | August 14, 2019

The author reports his survey findings about the networks and ideological distribution of administrators. He finds that the South, as a region, has a more even balance of ideological viewpoints among student-facing administrators, and that their social networks are more politically diverse.

I’m a Black Feminist. I think Call-Out Culture is Toxic.

Loretta Ross | New York Times | August 17, 2019

“Call-outs make people fearful of being targeted. People avoid meaningful conversations when hypervigilant perfectionists point out apparent mistakes, feeding the cannibalistic maw of the cancel culture. Shaming people for when they ‘woke up’ presupposes rigid political standards for acceptable discourse and enlists others to pile on.”

The Growing Partisan Divide in Views of Higher Education

Kim Parker | Pew Research Center | August 19, 2019

“There is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction—even suspicion—among the public about the role colleges play in society, the way admissions decisions are made and the extent to which free speech is constrained on college campuses. And these views are increasingly linked to partisanship.”

White Professor: My University Investigated Me for Quoting James Baldwin’s Use of ‘N-Word’

Laurie Sheck | USA Today | August 21, 2019

“Now that the university has cleared me of the charges [of racial discrimination and improper conduct], what strikes me most about this painful interval is not the fraught content of the clash between my judgment call and the student’s moral outrage, but the necessity that universities be preserved as places of active, even volatile, thinking—where ideas about which there is genuine urgency and no consensus are welcomed and protected.”

Bureaucrats Put the Squeeze on College Newspapers

Adam Willis | The Atlantic | August 23, 2019

“When professional pundits talk about dangers to free expression on campus, they typically refer to a handful of incidents in which colleges have revoked invitations for controversial speakers. This, however, is a fringe issue, confined to a small number of universities. The real crisis of campus speech lies elsewhere—in the erosion of student newspapers.”

Big Reads

The Assault on American Excellence

Anthony Kronman | Simon and Schuster | released August 20, 2019

Kronman argues that colleges and universities’ mission is to pursue the truth and serve as counterweights to the “tyranny of the majority” that Tocqueville identified as a risk inherent in American democracy. He argues that colleges and universities today are too often concerned with group-based identities and protecting students’ feelings to carry out their mission, and instead should promote an ethos of excellence in conversation and reasoning.

Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College Campuses

Michael S. Roth | Yale University Press | released August 20, 2019

Roth argues that colleges and universities will better carry out their educational mission by enrolling students who come from many and diverse communities. He argues that colleges and universities must strive to create “safe-enough” classrooms in which students feel safe to express their views without fear of reprisal. Roth spoke on these themes at a BPC Campus Free Expression panel in June, which may be viewed here.

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