Wednesday, September 16, 2015

On Liberty University, Bernie Sanders, and "Coddled" Undergraduates



This tweet comes from Robert George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton.  His tweet raises an interesting question.  Would a conservative speaking at a public university or secular private college receive the same kind of welcome that Bernie Sanders received at Liberty University?

Over at New York Magazine, Jesse Singal notes how Liberty University students "survived the unsafe space created by Bernie Sanders and his pro-choice views."  She writes:

No one should mistake this for a group of conservative students eagerly flocking to hear a dissenting voice — attendance was mandatory  for everyone who lives on campus, and this is not a school where protesting is welcome.

But it's still interesting to put this event in context, given what some other university students have done when faced with controversial speakers or events. For example, Emily Yoffe, who has written about the connection between alcohol and sexual assaulthad a speaking offer at a West Coast college rescinded after a student organization told her that her presence would make victims of assault "feel unsafe." At my alma mater of the University of Michigan, for example, a showing of American Sniper was canceled (though later un-canceled) after students complained that the movie's depiction of Iraqi Muslims would make "students feel unsafe and unwelcome." Unsuccessful attempts to get Bill Maher and George Will canceled as speakers at the University of California - Berkeley and Michigan State, respectively, involved similar arguments about creating dangerous-feeling environments. Sometimes the tactic works, and sometimes it doesn't, but there's definitely a trend of students arguing that allowing certain speakers to speak poses an emotional risk to some members of the student body.


Without jumping into the broader debate about political correctness, it's worth pointing out that, if we're going to buy the theory that the mere presence of a certain type of speaker on campus creates an unsafe space that expands across that campus, bringing the risk of psychological harm to students, Liberty must have been an incredibly unsafe place today. Many, if not most, of its students, after all, deeply and viscerally believe that abortion is murder. And here was a speaker who didn't agree with them on that — he was, from their point of view, in favor of mass murder. And yet they let him talk respectfully, they asked him questions, and it seemed like everyone was able to have a civil conversation (albeit a mandatory civil conversation).
As of yet, there are no reports of widespread psychological trauma out of Lynchburg.

And I also think it is appropriate to put all of this in the context of Barack Obama's recent response to the "coddled" college and university students discussed in a recent article in The Atlantic.  Here is the president: