Thursday, December 03, 2015

College Is/Is Not About Challenging Cherished Beliefs (Choose One)

Even five years ago, the dominant conservative complaint about American university culture was that it was too offensive. They'd seize upon some program or event they found outrageous -- typically something sex-related like the "Vagina Monologues" -- and talk about how colleges were imposing libertine corruption on our nation's youth. Or they'd pull out some class focusing on Marxism and complain about "leftist indoctrination" of radical ideas. Presentation of such views in an academic setting was, we were told, offensive to conservative and Christian students and hostile to traditional American values. Even as recently as this past summer we saw shades of this at Duke University, where conservatives complained about a freshman reading assignment of an LGBT-themed graphic novel. Such an assignment was uncomfortable and at odds with some students' Christian outlooks and, the argument went, they should not be exposed to it.

Then, seemingly without skipping a beat, the talking points did a complete 180. Now the line is that there is absolutely no right not to be "offended" in a university setting, and persons who register such complaints are whiny, coddled millennials who don't understand the point of a liberal arts education. Any concerns or protests regarding what content is and is not presented in university events, classes, and lectures pose a dire threat to free speech. Is something making you uncomfortable on campus? Good, because that's the whole point of college: it exists to challenge students and make them think critically about what they believe, not to make them comfortable and quiescent.

I write this because, well, I think Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey missed the transition memo.
Students attend college to study great thinkers and prepare for an increasingly competitive job market. They don't go to have their values and traditions sidelined and undermined. I can assure you that university offices of diversity will be subject to increased scrutiny during our upcoming legislative session.
This was in response to a non-binding university recommendation that holiday parties be non-sectarian rather than be overtly about Christmas. (And -- brief digression -- how is that Republican Jewish voter outreach going, Mr. Ramsey?).

Anyway, the clear principle being affirmed here is that the American college experience is not about undermining people's values and sidelining their traditions, unless those people are not white Christian men. In which case, we should all deeply worry about how these groups haven't inculcated the value that college is about being challenged and being uncomfortable.

1 comment:

Pillsy said...

I've seen a fair amount of this kind of doublethink, and not just from social conservatives; I've also heard diversity training workshops for incoming freshman described as "brainwashing" by moderate liberals who claim college students are too coddled.