Future Leaders?: America’s College Students Don’t Want To Be Challenged Or Entertain Opposing Beliefs

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If you think political correctness is bad, wait until the latest round of college graduates gains influence.

College administrators have been dealing with an alarming trend in higher education this spring, as several institutions have been forced to withdraw commencement speakers after students complained.

The Chronicle of Higher Education put together a handy “Field Guide” to the commencement speaker controversies:

Complaint: Sins of the past?

Speaker: Condoleezza Rice, Stanford University professor and former U.S. secretary of state
College: Rutgers University

Ms. Rice backed out after her selection drew vocal protests from students and faculty members, who objected to her role in the administration of President George W. Bush.

Result: Withdrew on May 3

Speaker: Robert J. Birgeneau, former chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley
College: Haverford College

Mr. Birgeneau withdrew after students and faculty members questioned his leadership during a 2011 incident when university police officers used force against student protesters. (See a related article: “A Bid to ‘Control a Contagion’ of Commencement Protests.”)

Result: Withdrew on May 13

Speaker: Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California and former U.S. secretary of homeland security
College: University of California’s Hastings College of Law

Protesters raised concerns about the number of people deported while Ms. Napolitano was secretary of homeland security.

Result: Spoke on May 10

Speaker: Michael Bloomberg, businessman and former mayor of New York City
College: Harvard University

Some students felt that Mr. Bloomberg’s support for a “stop-and-frisk” policy for the New York City police made him an inappropriate choice as commencement speaker.

Result: Set to speak on May 29

William Bowen, former president of Princeton University, joined graduating students at Haverford College on Sunday and acted as a replacement speaker after students protested to have Birgeneau uninvited. He made headlines for chastising the students for their immature display of dissatisfaction with the college’s original pick for speaker.

“I am disappointed that those who wanted to criticize Birgeneau’s handling of events at Berkeley chose to send him such an intemperate list of ‘demands,’” said Bowen. “In my view, they should have encouraged him to come and engage in a genuine discussion, not to come, tail between his legs, to respond to an indictment that a self-chosen jury had reached without hearing counterarguments.”

But Bowen shouldn’t be too surprised by students’ disinterest in honest debate in the face of controversy. The aversion to speakers who may hold different beliefs than certain students in a graduating class is part of a larger phenomenon unfolding at colleges throughout the country. The Nation’s latest round of graduates appears keen to reject outright anything that makes anyone mildly uncomfortable.

For instance, The New York Times reported over the weekend that students at some prominent colleges and universities are demanding that professors warn students of potentially disturbing or offensive content in assigned course materials.

From The Times:

Colleges across the country this spring have been wrestling with student requests for what are known as “trigger warnings,” explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans.

The warnings, which have their ideological roots in feminist thought, have gained the most traction at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where the student government formally called for them. But there have been similar requests from students at Oberlin College, Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, George Washington University and other schools.

The bottom line is that political correctness has evolved. And, along with the “everyone’s a winner” mentality that many of the Nation’s current students were raised with, it has manifested the very thing that PC opponents have warned about all along: the beginnings of a society where emotion, discourse and the value of being enraged from time to time are wholly unrealized.

Personal Liberty

Sam Rolley

Sam Rolley began a career in journalism working for a small town newspaper while seeking a B.A. in English. After covering community news and politics, Rolley took a position at Personal Liberty Media Group where could better hone his focus on his true passions: national politics and liberty issues. In his daily columns and reports, Rolley works to help readers understand which lies are perpetuated by the mainstream media and to stay on top of issues ignored by more conventional media outlets.

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