The politics of outrage, and the crisis of free speech on campus

Ira Wells in the Literary Review of Canada:

Wells-illo-400x304Among those invested in the notion that higher education is currently collapsing before our eyes, fewer pieces of evidence are proffered more frequently (or more uncritically) than the modern university’s supposed tendency to nurture and promote “offence taking” as a default attitude toward the world. Our universities, we are told, have discarded their traditional raisonin order to become incubators of moral outrage. Administrators, having abandoned time-honoured liberal arts ideals, today quiver to the cheap thrill of indignation; professors, having given up on Shakespeare and the “great books,” now indoctrinate students in radical Marxist ideology and seek to cultivate a generation of “social justice warriors.” Our campuses have become closed, ideologically insular places that are hostile to the freedom of speech and intolerant of dissent.

This opinion—broadcast by bilious media personalities who have never listened in on a faculty meeting, have no knowledge of universities’ academic priorities and have not set foot in an undergraduate lecture since Trudeau père occupied 24 Sussex—is, unsurprisingly, a grotesque parody of the complex, often internally conflicted reality of modern institutions of higher learning.

Yet this view, however exaggerated, is not entirely baseless. An increasingly sensitive and fine-grained vocabulary for registering and opposing forms of sexism, racism, ableism and religious intolerance has undeniably been developing within higher education.

More here.

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