Students at various American colleges are asserting a right not to hear anything that upsets them. I’m wondering if the reason the “free speech” and “no hurtful speech” groups can’t agree is that they disagree about the purpose of college.
Consider this open letter from a bunch of old people who work at, or used to work at, Yale. They start off by saying essentially the following: yes, being liberal/progressive is the only proper way to think, but Erika Christakis is actually a proper liberal with safe ideas. The old folks continue “While the university stands for many values, none is more central than the value of free expression of ideas.” The old people conclude by pointing out that the targets of student anger have been working “toward social justice,” e.g., by “making house visits to underserved populations.” So students should attack conservatives instead of the liberal Nicholas and Erika Christakis? (The letter does raise the question of what would happen if someone cracked into the Christakis set-top box and discovered that the social justice crusaders were secretly watching Fox News. Would they then no longer have a right to express their point of view regarding Halloween costumes?)
Let’s focus on the unsupported proposition that “none is more central than the value of free expression of ideas.” What if the young people who are protesting don’t agree? Perhaps to them Yale is a high-priced vocational program. What they want is to get a degree and then a high-paying job. Why should they be subjected to upsetting points of view during this process of vocational training, any more than they would if they went to tractor-trailer driving school? And if the students are going to prepare for work, where exercising freedom of speech will typically cost them their jobs, doesn’t it make sense to set up an environment where ThoughtCrime is punished?
The old people assume, without evidence, that Yale is the Agora of Socrates. Suppose that the students see it instead as an alcohol-soaked stepping stone to the Agora of the Kapeloi? Is that enough to account for the current discord on campus?