Last week the University of Chicago sent a letter to the incoming class of 2020 which made clear the school is not a fan of the political correctness that is popular on many campuses:
“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 states.
Not surprisingly, the letter was not greeted warmly on the progressive left.
— deray mckesson (@deray) August 25, 2016
[As an aside, hopefully the answer to McKesson’s rhetorical questions is, “Not you.” When he spoke at the Taft School last October McKesson gave students an emotional but misleading account of the Tamir Rice shooting, saying, “Like, literally, it’s like 20 officers they just watch Tamir die.”]
In a piece today, New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait says the reaction to the university’s letter by what he dubs the “anti-anti-p.c. left” has seemed intent on missing the point:
The anti-anti-p.c. response has seized upon the ambiguities of these terms. Slate’s L.V. Anderson argues, “‘Safe spaces’ on campus typically describe extracurricular groups that are intended to be havens for historically marginalized students.” Vox’s German Lopez makes the same contention: “If I, as a gay man, want to meet other guys and talk to other guys about guys without the fear of bigotry, it would be nonsensical to go to a straight bar. A gay bar is obviously a better, safer place for that.” Another pro-safe-space piece in Vox, by Emily Crockett, argues, “Safe spaces emerge organically, like hair salons, gay clubs, or black churches.”
It is very strange to read Chicago’s letter as a threat to forbid outings to gay bars or black churches. The letter is obviously directed at the common practice of delineating common public spaces on campus, like classrooms or auditoriums, to be “safe spaces” where political discourse must adhere to left-wing dogma.
Chait cites another Vox piece suggesting the letter was intended to discourage protest. As Chait points out, what the letter actually says is don’t expect the school to cancel an invitation because a speaker is controversial. I suppose the underlying message that protesters aren’t automatically in charge of who gets to speak on campus might discourage some of them but that’s as it should be. It certainly an improvement over a campus where a professor calls for “muscle” to prevent a student photographer from taking pictures of someone’s tent camp set up on school grounds.