University of Michigan: On second thought, we'll show American Sniper as planned

After taking a beating in the media all day long yesterday, the University of Michigan changed its mind and decided to show American Sniper on campus despite a small protest over its content. At first, they planned to offer a screening in the context of a panel discussion, but by 11 pm ET last night, they threw in the towel altogether. University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald forwarded this to members of the media who had contacted him for comment earlier in the day, including me:

Statement from E. Royster Harper,
University of Michigan vice president for student life
April 8, 2015

It was a mistake to cancel the showing of the movie “American Sniper” on campus as part of a social event for students.

The initial decision to cancel the movie was not consistent with the high value the University of Michigan places on freedom of expression and our respect for the right of students to make their own choices in such matters.

The movie will be shown at the originally scheduled time and location.

We recognize, however, that some students are uncomfortable with the content of the movie, and appreciate that concern.

Therefore, the university also will show an alternative movie, “Paddington,” in another location on campus at that same time and date to provide our students with additional options that evening.

Give Royster Harper credit for coming to the right decision, albeit a day late. By the time this came out, Michigan had gotten roasted for its decision to cave to those who claimed that its students couldn’t handle a simple two-hour film on a controversial subject, even one as well made as American Sniper. Seemingly until this late hour, no one at Michigan had thought to wonder why a campus of 43,000-plus students should be denied access to a film just because 300 didn’t approve of the choice.

Earlier in the day, I had called the school hoping to interview someone from the Center for Campus Involvement (the administration office in charge of the “UMix” Friday night events) for my next column, but ended up communicating with Fitzgerald by e-mail instead. My column for The Fiscal Times was written before the late-night reversal, but it’s noted as an addendum to it. The question still remains why the University of Michigan initially caved to the quasi-fascist demands to silence any expression of speech to which a tiny minority of its students objected:

Its website describes the school as “a diverse and vibrant community,” boasting of astudent body of over 43,000 young men and women, with a faculty of more than 3,000 tenured and tenure-tracked instructors. The university allowed less than 1 percent of its “diverse and vibrant community” dictate the terms of speech on their campus.

Why do young men and women go to college in the first place? Especially in the last decade, the costs have skyrocketed, often placing young adults into crippling debt for their education. A college degree gives people a jump start on their earning potential, but the reason it supposedly does so is because education brings them into contact with new ideas, challenges their assumptions, and opens them to wisdom.

The University of Michigan chose to do exactly the opposite. They certainly didn’t have to screen American Sniper, but their retreat on that choice deprived thousands of Wolverines of the opportunity to see and hear another point of view. Instead, they succumbed to the notion that free speech matters less than “triggers” and emotional responses, even those ignorant of the true nature of the speech about to take place. Unfortunately, Michigan’s actions are the rule rather than the exception on college campuses, where speech codes impose limits on free expression and debate, and administrators worry more about the fragile psyches of their students than exposing them to heterodox thinking.

However, at least the students attending the UMix on Friday will still have a movie to see, one more suited to the way that the school sees their charges. Fitzgerald confirmed that CCI would screen a more suitable film in place of American Sniper …Paddington, based on the beloved children’s book series. How utterly appropriate, and how demonstrative of Michigan’s paternalism and condescension displayed in this decision. Perhaps next time, the university’s administrators can watch American Sniper for its lessons in courage, if nothing else. 

Those students inclined to curl up in a corner over emotional “triggers” can still watch Paddington rather than have their worldviews challenged. But perhaps they should just stay home and flip burgers instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars on an education if they can’t handle an occasional heterodox point of view. It’d be a hell of a lot cheaper for them, and a hell of a lot easier on the rest of us.

Update: Popehat found the one adult at Michigan, and it’s … just the one you’d expect, really:

Well said.