U of C President Zimmer speaks on free expression at universities, criticizes the “comfort ethic” that infantilizes students by trying not to make them uncomfortable. Meanwhile, our students demand infantilization.

Below is a video of University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer speaking on “Universities, Education, and Free Expression” at the City Club of Cleveland on October 3. The video is an hour long, but Zimmer’s talk is from 4:25 to 27:54 with an intro and the last half hour being Q&A.

Although Zimmer is not a highly charismatic and energetic speaker, his words are important and weighty. He is, after all, the man who commissioned the committee that came up with the U of C’s “Statement on Principles of Free Expression,” widely regarded as an enlightened speech policy for universities, and one widely emulated in America.

His theme, which begins at 10:15, is that freedom of speech for universities is of paramount importance for the highest quality education that can be dispensed, and that such freedom will necessarily entail personal discomfort for everyone. Without that discomfort, which occurs when your own beliefs come into conflict with beliefs and statements of others, you can’t grow as a person—or even sharpen your ideas. As his talk continues to 14:57, he mentions that some faculty at other schools go against this principle by demonizing those with opposing ideas (well all know about this), and that many universities cater to this ethic by promoting students’ personal comfort over compelling and conflicting discourse.

At 19:36, Zimmer criticizes those who privilege feelings over education, calling out the dangers that “privileging feelings, to the extent that a child feels they are always entitled to feel good and comfortable. and that the world should be organized around this, is not helpful in this regard.” By “this regard”, he means producing responsible adults.

In other words, Zimmer is criticizing those students who demand that they not be offended by words, implying that they’re intellectually infantilized, or so I think. Shortly thereafter, he says that “Creating a sanctuary for comfort is not fulfilling our responsibilities.” He chastises those who criticize free speech from ““self-righteous, moral, or political indignation, an agenda driven by such moral or political views, and comfort.” Those words will sound familiar to you.

Towards the end of his talk, Zimmer discusses what can be done (starting free-speech education in high schools), and then takes questions about “hate speech”. The questions are good, as are Zimmer’s answers, though to me he seems a bit too reluctant to pin most of this comfort and deplatforming behavior on the Left (it is now, he says, but wasn’t in the past [true] and won’t be in the future [who knows?]). He’s also a bit wary when addressing the specifics of “hate speech” as well. But of course, as he notes, the term itself is slippery.

But I’m proud that this man is the President of our University, and has taken stands that were unpopular but necessary to ensure a good education at his (and my) University. And other schools are beginning to emulate us with respect to free speech.

But the students here, or at least the ones writing in the student newspaper, still demand the right to be infantilized. Have a look at the latest “Viewpoints” article in the Chicago Maroon, in which two students plead incoherently for the right to safe spaces in which they are not uncomfortable and can reinforce their self-esteem.

UPDATE: Reader Michael has found public profiles of the two students, which are quite interesting. See his comment here.

What they say is largely untrue: I am at this university and these students are not “erased”, are not “tokens”, and are treated, as far as I’ve seen, with the respect given all students. They are simply whining about. . . well, I don’t know what, except that they don’t feel special enough.

Here are a few quotes. (Note that the word “Black” is capitalized while “white” is in small letters, a sure sign of Authoritarian Leftism, and a trope also seen in the Maroon’s latest movie review.)

Have a gander at this. The students are demanding more University space allotted for marginalized students and their groups:

As such, our “case for space” is one that compels the administration to provide more: more room for spiritual activity and more room for cultural and racial safe spaces, particularly for minority communities on campus.

As most marginalized students know, we’d be lucky if diversity and inclusion issues started and ended in the lecture hall. The issue (read: lack) of inclusivity is somehow a harder pill to swallow outside of the classroom, in the social sphere, at frat parties and at graduate mixers. If you’re worried about anti-Blackness as a Black student, or the lack of vegetarian options as a Muslim or Hindu student, or sexual assault as a female student—or all of the above as a Black Muslim woman, for example—our campus has failed to be socially inclusive.[JAC: note that they give no examples of how the university has failed to be “inclusive.” This is just an unevidenced and self-serving claim.)

The things that force us all under the umbrella of CI+I are not the things that make us unique and worthy of celebration; they’re the things that make us marginalized and politicized. We don’t need a space to remind us that we are not cisgender, heterosexual white men.

This part is incoherent, at least to me, but it has the right buzzwords like “erasure” that resonate with the Authoritarian Left:

Here we are, stuck in a cycle of dismissal and erasure because we seem ungrateful and aggressive when we want our own spaces, ones where we can focus on the vibrancy and variety of our own identities. We want spaces that focus on the pluralistic notion of identities, not on the singular concept of identity and inclusion. We want to feel included and at peace within our communities, so that we may then feel confident and understood outside of them.

What on Earth is a “pluralistic notion of identities”? In truth, they want to confirm a unitary agreed-upon identity. Further, how is an in-group exercise in affirmation going to make students “confident and understood outside of them”? I can understand how support groups can increase confidence, but the way to be understood is not to sequester yourself in a safe space. This self-segregation is exactly the kind of exercise that, says Zimmer, is inimical to the interaction and challenge that furthers education.

Finally, the two student authors simply distort their position at the university. Minority students here are not tokens, and are not accepted to increase the University’s marketing strategy. I happen to know that the University takes diversity and inclusion quite seriously. What is below is infantile and contemptible: more assertion without evidence:

The nuances of our practices, our backgrounds, and our values are erased, and the only space we have is a space that does nothing but remind us that we are simply tokens, mostly here to pose for marketing materials for the University, to showcase its diversity and inclusion on alumni weekend or during prospie [prospective student] events.

I also note that the Maroon has never taken a stand on free speech, despite the fact that it’s the student newspaper at a free-speech university and itself depends on the free speech assured to all students by Zimmer, even though our university is private and need not abide by the First Amendment. I published a letter in the Maroon to that effect, but apparently the paper’s editors are too pusillanimous to simply come out and affirm what they should: the principles of free speech that govern our University.

Things have come 180º since I went to college in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Then it was the University that was authoritarian and the students in favor of free speech. Now the students are authoritarian and the university is in favor of free speech. As the Wicked Witch of the West said as she melted away “What a world! What a world!”

41 Comments

  1. Cate Plys
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    You got me at quoting the Wicked Witch of the West. Well played.

  2. Christine Janis
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Unlike the last(?) president, Sonnenshein, who thought that students would be ‘more comfortable’ with a Starbucks in the bookstore rather than the legendary Morrys (Jewish deli run by Asians).

  3. Posted October 22, 2018 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    If I were attending school in South America, Africia, Midfle East, or Asia I would probably want a space where I could gather with fellow US students to relax. I am not sure if that is what they are talking about or not.

    Free speech and its boundaries are always a problem. Someone has to decide where the boundaries are when it comes to bring speakers to campus and in classrooms and other areas. My position is those decisions should be made according to what a reasonable person’s would decide. A reasonable person being the faculty and school administrators. I have never met a reasonable person but have faith there is one somewhere. The rest of us have to go the best we can in the circumstances we find ourselves in.
    I fon’t know anything about college students today other than the ones I know seem fine. My wife says the are spoiled brats.

    • Deodand
      Posted October 22, 2018 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      I think the term immature adult is more appropriate. Witness the rise of the term “I am unable to adult today.” in popular culture.

      • Posted October 22, 2018 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

        I have never liked the term immature adult when applied to people over thirty. It is good for people under twenty five. Brains don’t finish maturing until the early or mid twenties. Frontal lobes are the last to come in. About the same time as wisdom teeth come in.
        I like the phrase I am unable to adult today. Had not heard it before.

  4. Posted October 22, 2018 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    I thought the witch said I’m melting away. I’m melting away. I must not have been paying attention.

  5. Heather Hastie
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    If these students feel like “tokens”, they must feel they don’t measure up academically and don’t deserve their place at U of C.

    I’m looking forward to watching this talk later. (I wish I had time now.)

    • Paul S
      Posted October 22, 2018 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. I think this “…mostly here to pose for marketing materials for the University..” is accurate, at least for the two who penned the letter.
      They’d be better served spending two years and less money at Joliet Junior College.

  6. Jon Gallant
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    The student blather about “erasure” and being “tokens” and so on conveys a perfectly clear message: they find it scary to be in a minority and want fiercely to be the majority or a simulacrum of it.

  7. DrBrydon
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    The nuances of our practices, our backgrounds, and our values are erased….

    How do they think this is different than any other student’s experience? The educational experience is about learning, not rehearsing the pagent of your life. No professor ever asked me where I was from, or about my family. It might have been polite, but it wasn’t relevant. Go talk to your friends or psychologist; the world isn’t here to affirm you.

  8. Christopher
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    For all those U of C students who need a “safe space”, I hear there is plenty of room for you at Evergreen state…

    • jpetts
      Posted October 22, 2018 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      Nooooo….. Don’t send them to WA: we have too many snowflakes here already.

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    … Zimmer is not a highly charismatic and energetic speaker …

    Blessed are they who are meek in approach, yet who do hunger and thirst for knowledge and righteousness, for they shall be protected by the mantle of the First Amendment, and shall propagate free speech for all.

    • Cate Plys
      Posted October 22, 2018 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      Is that from the King James?

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted October 22, 2018 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

        Beatitudes mash-up from Psalm 23. 🙂

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted October 22, 2018 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

          Sorry, from Matthew 5. I was using Psalm 23 for something else.

          • BJ
            Posted October 22, 2018 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

            Ken, we have repeatedly asked you to stop telling us about your masturbation rituals.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted October 24, 2018 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

              I’ma hafta stop before I get to the NT verse that goes “if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee.”

  10. Posted October 22, 2018 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    In the 1950’s and ’60s, many people died fighting against segregation. Now students are fighting to put up those old barriers. WTF!

    • Christopher
      Posted October 22, 2018 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      Exactly! Think of Strom Thurman and George Wallace, of all the segregationists of yesteryear if only they had known…would they have laughed and laughed! How soon before the regressives DEMAND separate seating and drinking fountains?

    • BJ
      Posted October 22, 2018 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

      From 2017: https://www.wsj.com/articles/50-years-after-loving-v-virginia-colleges-embrace-segregation-1496792040

      “Last year, at the urging of the school’s black student union, California State University, Los Angeles began offering segregated housing for black students. The University of Connecticut, the University of California, Davis and the University of California, Berkeley are among the colleges that have similar arrangements in place.”

      “This year, Harvard held its first-ever commencement ceremony for black graduate students. The New York Times reported that racially segregated end-of-year ceremonies “like the one held at Harvard have become more mainstream, more openly embraced by universities and more common than ever before.”

      • BJ
        Posted October 22, 2018 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

        FYI: to get past the paywall, add http://facebook.com/l.php?u= before the link text. It will treat the link as if it’s from a Facebook post, which deactivates the paywall.

  11. Mike Anderson
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    My goodness that “case for space” plea is a whiny and depressing exercise in self victimization. They’re claiming that not having a nice clubhouse is “dismissal and erasure”.

  12. Vaal
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    “The nuances of our practices, our backgrounds, and our values are erased, and the only space we have is a space that does nothing but remind us that we are simply tokens, mostly here to pose for marketing materials for the University, to showcase its diversity and inclusion on alumni weekend or during prospie [prospective student] events.”

    ^^^^ And you say this was published in a paper called the “Maroon?”

    Jerry I think there’s a slight typo. 😉

  13. Posted October 22, 2018 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    I have a solution. Give them their safe spaces but require each have a “Marginalized Students Only” sign above the door. That might cure them. Of course, I’m an old white male so I better shut up now.

    • XCellKen
      Posted October 22, 2018 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

      But are you Cishet too ?

  14. Randall Schenck
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    I believe he hinted pretty well that students are missing something they should be getting in high school. He did not go into it specifically but thinks it is pretty clear the students are missing something when they arrive in College. This would probably be a good area to consider if they really want to do something to correct the current condition. If we expect to fix this at the college level – may be asking too much.

    • Posted October 22, 2018 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      Maybe but it should be recognized that high school students are under the protection of their parents and school teachers and administrators. They aren’t considered adults in many ways. This is generally not the case in college.

      I’m reminded of something I learned from being tangentially involved with how blind kids are handled in high school vs college. In high school, the administration is responsible for making sure the blind student succeeds and gets the help they need. In college, the blind student is expected to seek that help. If they don’t seek it, they generally don’t get it. This is a big transition for these kids and their parents. As you might imagine, some of them aren’t ready for it.

      • Christopher
        Posted October 22, 2018 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

        As someone who worked while children with visual impairments, I can say this is a worry. We talk about “learned helplessness” and “backing off” so that it doesn’t happen, which is hard for someone like me who has to fight the urge to help. But, sometimes help is harmful. So, like with kids who are blind or visual impaired, sometimes we adults need to back off and let them fail or they won’t learn how to succeed for themselves. These whinging little snot-nosed university kids are too used to being “safe” and damn it, life isn’t safe. Sometimes, life hurts. It’s how you deal with it that matters. Or in my case, how you don’t deal with it, run from your problems, and end up poor, alone, and depressed. That’s not something I wish for the blind students I worked with or for these “snowflakes”. Hell, they need to melt, then refreeze harder and stronger as adults who can break down the granite problems we are facing and will continue to face in the future.

  15. Michael Fisher
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    The two authors of the Maroon opinion piece are Muslim women. They are both members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the University of Chicago (UofC) and supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The above is according to Canary Mission HERE & HERE

    The promotion of “unhealthy habits” by the university that they whine about, but don’t specify are such things as the pub quiz held on campus. These people are in the business of NOT meeting people halfway & they are NOT in the business of live & let live – they want everyone to be miserable, insular & separate from the wide range of American experience. Their only other joint article was in 2017 when they looked down on frat parties – could be thay had a point**, but I couldn’t wade through to the end.

    They have learned from political Islam that playing the victim card gets results

    ** But I doubt it

  16. JD Anderson
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    “the only space we have is a space that does nothing but remind us that we are simply tokens, mostly here to pose for marketing materials for the University”

    If that is what they are, it’s because that’s what they’ve chosen to be. Alternately, they could choose to excel at their studies; use the opportunities the university provides them to create relationships with faculty, other students, and organizations that have partnered with the university; and be proactive in creating the space they want on their own terms.

    Instead, they’re whining into the ether about a problem that doesn’t exist and expecting some authority to come and fix it for them.

    How about no. That’s not what university is for, and it should never be.

  17. BJ
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    The complaint that they’re nothing but “token” minorities is a perfect example of what has become an axiom: when you give in to the demands of activists, the demands themselves become problematic. If you increase diversity and talk about how important it is, students like these authors then complain that they’re being politicized and are just “tokens.” There is literally no way to remedy this problem. What, exactly, is it that makes them “tokens”? I’d like a full explanation of that. They were the ones who politicized themselves, and continue to do so.

  18. Taz
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    cultural and racial safe spaces

    What’s wrong with that? We could even come up with a catchy name for them. How about “ghettos”?

  19. dd
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    So, this is the level of writing of some 3rd years students liberal arts students at Chicago. I am absolutely stunned. At the high school I went to, even the somewhat better students would have been embarrassed by this level of writing:

    https://www.chicagomaroon.com/article/2017/11/8/athens-vs-alpha-delt/

  20. Posted October 23, 2018 at 5:43 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  21. Posted October 23, 2018 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    I have nothing much to add except to say that your last quote literally made me “Lol.”

  22. Posted October 24, 2018 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    A good champion of free speech, for sure.

    But what to do about the root causes of the problem?

  23. Posted November 13, 2018 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Former High Court chief justice Robert French will conduct a ­review of freedom of speech at Australian universities, in the wake of a ­series of incidents in which contentious debates have been ­stifled on campuses.

    The review, to be unveiled today, is a first step by the Morrison government towards holding universities accountable for restrictions that breach a planned national code of freedom of speech on campus. The development of the nation­al code will be the centrepiece of the review.

    The government has given Mr French four months to assess the effectiveness of the framework protecting freedom of speech and to develop a code that will be used by the government as a national benchmark for university performance.


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