Why College Professors Are Afraid to Teach Millennials

Why College Professors Are Afraid to Teach Millennials

© Brian Snyder / Reuters

Hungry for love and it’s feeding time, Alice Cooper wrote in his 1991 classic song, “Feed My Frankenstein.” Academia has created its own Frankenstein with its speech codes, groupthink enforcement, and discouraging of dissent. This Frankenstein isn’t hungry for love – it’s hungry for power.  And academics themselves have belatedly discovered that they’re on the menu. 

The most recent to find himself not the last up against the wall in this anti-free speech revolution is “Edward Schlosser,” a professor writing under a pseudonym at Vox, for reasons that become apparent almost immediately. Schlosser admits that he lives in fear of students who share his political point of view, and has to change his curriculum continuously to keep from running afoul of their potential for hurt feelings. 

Related: The Coming Demise of Free Speech in America 

The relationship between students and teachers has changed, he says, thanks to the same hypersensitivity that Academia uses to silence dissent and debate. “The student-teacher dynamic has been reenvisioned along a line that's simultaneously consumerist and hyper-protective,” Schlosser writes, “giving each and every student the ability to claim Grievous Harm in nearly any circumstance, after any affront, and a teacher's formal ability to respond to these claims is limited at best.”           

In the past, students complaints focused on actual teaching or bias in the classroom, issues which deal with the teacher’s actions and can at least form the basis of coherent criticism of behavior or teaching methods. Now, Schlosser knows that complaints can have little to with objective reality but with how the student perceives it. 

He worries that an accusation will involve a lack of sensitivity to one individual’s “feelings,” or as Schlosser puts it, “some simple act of indelicacy that’s considered tantamount to physical assault … center[ed] solely on how my teaching affected the student’s emotional state.” Even if the instruction delivered is “absolutely appropriate and respectful,” any wounded emotions will “get a teacher in serious trouble” on today’s college campuses. 

Related: University of Michigan Fires a Shot at Free Speech 

The only way to avoid the inevitable wounded-snowflake syndrome, Schlosser concludes, is to anodize the curricula so that no possible challenge to student worldviews sneaks into “higher education.” After watching a colleague lose his position over complaints that he had exposed them to Edward Said and Mark Twain, Schlosser began the clean-up project that continues to this day. Instead of challenging his students to learn, Schlosser felt compelled “to comb through my syllabi and cut out anything I could see upsetting a coddled undergrad, texts ranging from Upton Sinclair to Maureen Tkacik.” Schlosser said he wasn’t alone in that effort. 

Laura Kipnis, a tenured professor at Northwestern University, agrees. She wrote an essay in February criticizing the “sexual paranoia” on college campuses regarding Title IX issues. Based on the essay, which appeared in the Chronicle Review, two students filed harassment charges against Kipnis, saying that her essay had “’a chilling effect’ on students’ ability to report sexual misconduct .” Northwestern investigated Kipnis essentially for criticizing Title IX, finally clearing her late last month. 

“What’s being lost, along with job security, is the liberty to publish ideas that might go against the grain or to take on risky subjects in the first place,” Kipnis concluded, noting that her tenure made it more difficult for Northwestern to get rid of her. “But even those with tenure fear getting caught up in some horrendous disciplinary process with ad hoc rules and outcomes,” Kipnis noted. “Pretty much everyone now self-censors accordingly.” 

What created this problem? Schlosser considers but dismisses the speech-hostile policies on campuses. The issue is “a simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice,” he concludes. Combined with intense competition for teaching jobs in higher education, academics now feel intimidated into limiting themselves essentially to telling students what they want to hear, and not just in class but anywhere on campus or even in publications unaffiliated with their institutions at all. Ironically, academics find themselves deprived of any free-speech zones at all. 

Related: The Growing Danger of Defining Hate Speech 

This has little to do with feelings, as Schlosser and others in academia are belatedly discovering.  The purpose is to impose each individual’s concept of social justice without actually doing any work traditionally associated with the concept. It’s easier to demand the cancellation of “an Afrobeat band because their lineup had too many white people in it” than it is to work to harmonize different cultures in the same space. It’s about enforcing identity over ideas, or entirely replacing ideas with blizzards of ever-changing boundary lines of victim constituencies. 

Schlosser’s conclusion conveniently fails to follow through with the obvious next question. If students have “a stifling conception of social justice” that leans heavily on silencing dissent and policing speech and thought rather than engage on ideas, where did they learn it? The answer, for anyone who has attended either college, or paid attention to the proliferation of speech codes, development of “safe rooms and speech zones,” and the use of “triggers” to accuse people of harassment for what used to be rational debate, is pretty clear.           

This is a stalking horse for censorship, not coincidentally of the same kind that college campuses have either encouraged or imposed for more than a generation on their students. The next generation will now experience “higher education” as an echo chamber, one in which teachers ensure that no cognitive dissonance enter the lives of those going into deep debt to experience what can only be considered an intellectual day-care, run by the toddlers. Those students have now become the masters. The academics created this monster, and now it has come for them. And us.

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