Last week, when the President and the Chancellor of the University of Missouri resigned we witnessed the death of higher education in this country as we know it.
Historically, higher education has been about challenging the mind by being exposed to contradictory viewpoints. This resulted in stronger more educated citizens. People who could look at both sides of an argument and weigh the pros and cons and decide for themselves. The rationale for tenured faculty has always been so that they would have academic freedom to speak and teach about unpopular topics without fear of losing their livelihood.
This is not the 1960’s. Then students protested about the Vietnam War. In addition to an ideological concern, they were concerned that some of their classmates might be forced to participate in what they viewed as an unjust war. When you scratch the surface you find that the protests at Mizzou were about rumored acts of racism (with little in the way of evidence) and loss of the graduate students health insurance due to ObamaCare. But the protests are spreading around the country in places like Yale, Dartmouth, Amherst, Ithaca College and Claremont McKenna College. These protests have been about creating “Safe Spaces” free from offensive Halloween costumes or name calling or even having to hear someone disagree with you.
The idealic vision of intellectual students sitting around the coffee shop debating the issues of the day has shifted to protesters shouting each other down on the common green. Is this progress?
This change is occurring at the same time that parents and students are questioning the return on the cost of an education. When it costs over $100,000 to get a degree from a public university and upwards of $250,000 at a private one what type of return should the students be expecting? There has been a subtle shift from expanding the mind to getting a good paying job. Discerning parents want to know how these protests are helping to do either.
But as administrations begin watering down the collegiate experience through Safe Spaces, Trigger Warnings and discussion of Micro Aggressions and privilege employers are going to start questioning where and who they recruit. How will the little flowers that take offense to seeing Halloween costumes with sombreros going to transition into a working world where you might hear or see much more offensive material from a customer? Will they be able to sit through a dinner with rich white males without commenting on their privilege?
Unless there are administrators who have the courage to stand up to the bullies and remind the students that just like everyone else they need to follow the rules of law and the common rules of civility then parents and smart students will begin to look at many of the alternate forms of education that are becoming available like online learning.