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Free Speech Article on Slate about the University of Chicago

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Replies to: Free Speech Article on Slate about the University of Chicago

  • marlowe1marlowe1 Registered User Posts: 516 Member
    @phoenix1616 or any other current student - Can you give some specific examples on the U of C campus of safe spaces, especially "official safe spaces"? I am more interested in the concrete reality on the Chicago campus than in the abstract concept. Critics tend to caricature the concept. I have a feeling that concrete examples would explode the caricature. Nevertheless, the concept does concern me in light of the long tradition of Chicago being a place of open discussion of ideas of all sorts, even rather crazy ones, and not only coming from invited speakers in lecture halls but taking place in classrooms and around dinner tables in dorms. I cherish the notion from my own days of absolutely free-wheeling and uninhibited discussion of all things under the sun and moon, with lots of disagreement and the testing of all arguments for their logic, evidence and cogency. Nevertheless, this isn't the whole reality of student life. I am wondering if safe spaces might simply be places such as clubs and organizations of like-minded people where a student can go who wants to be out of that battle for a while and be among soul-mates. That sort of place has always been a part of campus life, and I see nothing wrong with it, unless it is now coupled to a more expansive thought that the battle itself is now a problem or that classrooms or lecture halls or dinner tables must all be safe spaces in that particular sense.
  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying Registered User Posts: 5,054 Senior Member
    "Free speech is a running joke on campus that nobody takes seriously, from the senior profs to the undergrads."

    Having a very hard time believing this very sweeping generalization. We know "senior profs" at UChicago who were all for the Statement. It followed the faculty report on freedom of expression so the faculty have been involved in the issue from the beginning. Perhaps there are some loud complainers - of course, if anyone tried to shut THEM down, well, I can't even imagine . . .

    The College is everyone's focus here on CC but at @85bears46 has noted previously, UChicago is more than just the College. There are a whole lot of faculty who are basically unknown to the College students and you really have no idea what any of those guys think about this issue. Many of them are way too busy doing productive research and tending to the needs of their respective departments to be spending much time trying to convince the College kids that "nobody" takes academic freedom seriously. Any prof. who says that, btw, is playing YOU for a dupe :-O
  • uocparentuocparent Registered User Posts: 218 Junior Member
    @phoenix1616 You just called everyone who enjoyed what UChicago is saying a dupe, including donors, universities who admired it and jumped on the bandwagon, prospective applicants, etc. You must be one of the insiders on campus who can expose it for what it really is.

    I mean, sure, let’s ensure that UChicago stay on track, but it’s not that prudent to degrade the massive amount of entities that sees this in a generally positive light. The message UChicago sent was powerful and bold.
  • uocparentuocparent Registered User Posts: 218 Junior Member
    ^And if this results in marketing, then all the better. Anyway, the product behind it is not without substance. (I mean, seriously, UChicago is the essence of substance.)
  • HydeSnarkHydeSnark Registered User Posts: 851 Member
    edited March 29
    @marlowe1 In practice, "safe spaces" are nothing more than places where people do not have to fear judgement, abuse, or harassment. For example: if you draw a swastika on the door of a Jewish student, you will be removed from your house and likely banned from that dorm. If you walk into the Center for Identity and Inclusion and start handing out pamphlets you found on the Westboro Baptist Church's webpage explaining the infernal future of anyone who isn't straight, you are going to be asked to leave. It really isn't such a terrifying boogieman: it's a matter of basic human decency.

    Similarly, "trigger warnings" aren't, as much as the right loves to pontificate on, warnings that you're about to encounter an idea you may not like. They are warnings that you're about to encounter something traumatic. Obvious example: no professor is going to tell the class to read Lolita without giving a heads up on the main subject it deals with. I don't think anyone reads Lolita without feeling disturbed, but if you've been through similar experiences you may not even be able to read it without painful memories and associations coming back. Nobody seems to have a problem with a natural morphism: it's generally not considered okay to shove a 6 inch long hairy tarantula into people's faces with no warning, so I don't see why people make such a big deal about this.

    The university's hypocrisy on the subject is particularly annoying because by recognizing the hysteria-filled anti-definitions of these topics they grant them legitimacy while the university knows perfectly well that these aren't actually unreasonable things for students to ask for and is willing to actually do them in practice.
  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying Registered User Posts: 5,054 Senior Member
    edited March 29
    @HydeSnark - what about the Harvard Law prof. who, in 2014, was asked not to use the word "violate" (as in "what policy does this decision violate" or some such) because it was triggering someone's trauma? Part of the problem a few years ago was that this was rapidly descending into nonsense. It's possible you are noticing the "wake" of the issue - as in the faculty got "woke" and started the pushback a few years ago. Oberlin, for instance, reversed its college-wide "recommendation" to all faculty to include trigger warnings back in 2014 - the problem had been accelerating prior to that year. The UChicago faculty made its report in 2015(?) and the university responded in 2016 - and other schools started following suit in the months afterward. Those who started college around that time might be thinking "no big deal" simply because they are on the back-side of the issue during their college years.
  • HydeSnarkHydeSnark Registered User Posts: 851 Member
    edited March 29
    @JBStillFlying Guess we've completed the Hegelian dialectic then. Dunno why people are getting so riled up now, then. We've reached synthesis, time to move on from trigger warnings and safe spaces.
  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying Registered User Posts: 5,054 Senior Member
    @HydeSnark - well maybe. Thing is about you dialectical materialists: you are ALWAYS in a hurry to get to the next revolution. Absent any real power, that's just NOT a good recipe for permanence. There might still be some work to do, even at UChicago, but hopefully it can be carried out patiently, methodically and in keeping with the faculty's own report. Discussion and persuasion is the appropriate strategy here.
  • JHSJHS Registered User Posts: 17,992 Senior Member
    That anecdote about the Harvard Law professor. It's a real anecdote, that appeared in an article by another Harvard Law professor rejecting the notion that law students should be protected from the trauma of having to learn the law of rape through the lens of difficult, close cases. It was presented as an example of an extreme, indeed ridiculous, request by an individual student. There's no indication that the teacher took it seriously, or that anyone in the administration at Harvard Law School encouraged that teacher or any other teacher to comply with such a request. If you know anything about Harvard Law School, you know that hell would freeze over before the administration did anything like that to a full-time faculty member. (If you are looking for an institution where the needs of the consumer come first, it's not Harvard Law School.)

    Anyway, I suppose that anecdote illustrates that there are, indeed, some trigger-warning crazies in the world. But it doesn't indicate that those particular crazies are a clear and present threat to academic free speech.
  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying Registered User Posts: 5,054 Senior Member
    From the article, which was in late 2014 so a few years ago:

    "About a dozen new teachers of criminal law at multiple institutions have told me that they are not including rape law in their courses, arguing that it’s not worth the risk of complaints of discomfort by students. Even seasoned teachers of criminal law, at law schools across the country, have confided that they are seriously considering dropping rape law and other topics related to sex and gender violence."

    Not sure what the update is. It's certainly possible that rape law continued at Harvard with few if any problems or complaints. Not sure about other institutions.
  • marlowe1marlowe1 Registered User Posts: 516 Member
    Another criticism levelled often against colleges concerns the conduct and content of classes: the accusation that Profs push their personal convictions too hard on political matters and shut down minority viewpoints of conservative orientation. I am curious, @HydeSnark or @phoenix1616 , about your experience at Chicago: (1) How often does it actually happen in a discussion-sized class that the subject matter turns into one in which there is an explicitly political or culture-war dimension? (2) When that does happen, and if a dissenting opinion is expressed by a student, how does that get handled by the Prof?
    Anecdotes welcome.

  • phoenix1616phoenix1616 Registered User Posts: 92 Junior Member
    edited April 1
    @marlowe1 I'm a political science major, so I've taken a lot of classes that discuss politics, but not usually the sort of politics you're referring to where there's a clear liberal and conservative opinion - I essentially exclusively did foreign rather than domestic policy classes.

    That said, I've had a few political philosophy seminars that covered racial issues; the profs treated the right-wing and left-wing students' comments identically. I've never seen abortion or campus politics come up in class. Plenty of professors are openly liberal/anti-Trump.
  • HydeSnarkHydeSnark Registered User Posts: 851 Member
    edited April 1
    @marlowe1 I'm not sure what you mean - we are here to learn, not to wage the culture war. The mechanics of learning are fundamentally incompatible with throwing politically charged platitudes at each other.

    For example, take trans rights, which usually comes up when discussing gender roles and culture. But we are already assuming the conservative argument (there is no distinction between sex and gender) as the culturally reinforced axiom of which we are examining the validity. No one is stopping you from dismissing what you are reading wholesale and trying to convince everyone that there is in fact no distinction between sex and gender, but then you'd have to explain to the class and the professor why every point in your reading critiquing that conception is wrong. That's a remarkably difficult position to take - in general professors don't assign readings because they are easy to refute. Critiques are perfectly acceptable, and even encouraged, but if your critique is "I think this is totally wrong" you're going to have one heck of a time defending your argument on intellectual grounds against the class and the professor (who usually takes the role of the defender of the author since generally they understand the text far better than any student).
  • marlowe1marlowe1 Registered User Posts: 516 Member
    Fountains of good sense from both of you. It's what I expect at the University of Chicago, both from its profs and its students.
  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying Registered User Posts: 5,054 Senior Member
    Not sure if this is an example of what @marlowe1 was referring to but as it happened recently here's the article:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5492201/Student-kicked-class-saying-two-genders.html

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