Sunday, November 08, 2015

Struggles at Yale

I used to eat at Silliman College (one of Yale's residential colleges) with other physics professors, mainly because it was the closest cafeteria where we could get a free lunch. The free lunches were meant to encourage us to mingle with undergraduates at the college. But I was one of few professors that actually enjoyed talking to the students -- most preferred to sit at tables with colleagues.

In all of my trips through the ornate gates into the beautiful courtyard, I never witnessed an incident like this one, between the Master of Silliman (a resident faculty member who runs the college) and a student protestor. What is all the fuss about? An email exchange over the extent to which Yale should regulate Halloween costumes (!) in order to protect sensitivities.

More details from the Washington Post and Slate. For discussion of the broader issue -- suppression of open debate on campus due to political correctness -- see this article by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff.
The Atlantic: In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education ...

Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. ... In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke. ...
Of course, one is reminded of struggle sessions during the Cultural Revolution in China.

I'm a Liberal Professor and the current atmosphere on some campuses disturbs me. College is absolutely about exposure to a diversity of viewpoints, together with rational examination and open debate.

Obama on political correctness:
... I’ve heard some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I gotta tell you, I don’t agree with that either. I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. I think you should be able to — anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with ‘em. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, "You can’t come because I'm too sensitive to hear what you have to say." That’s not the way we learn ...

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