Getting Coddled at College

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The Center for Campus Involvement at the University of Michigan recently canceled a screening of “American Sniper,” the Clint Eastwood film about Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. It was canceled after sophomore Lamees Mekkaoui gathered “roughly 200” signatures (out of a student body of 42,700) on a petition alleging the film “promotes anti-Muslim rhetoric and sympathizes with a mass killer.”

CCI said in a statement: “We deeply regret causing harm to members of our community, and appreciate the thoughtful feedback provided to us by students.”

The screening was back on a day later, and the vice president for student life said in a statement: “The initial decision to cancel the movie was not consistent with the high value the University of Michigan places on freedom of expression.”

The flip-flop occurred shortly after Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said he would show “American Sniper” to the football team. “Proud of Chris Kyle and proud to be an American,” Mr. Harbaugh tweeted. “If that offends anybody, then so be it!”

Aside from Mr. Harbaugh, UM officials appear to be all too typical of college administrators today.

“Universities emulate greenhouses where fragile adults are coddled as if they were hothouse orchids,” wrote Victor Davis Hanson, who taught classics at Fresno State University. “Hypersensitive students are warned about ‘micro-aggressions’ that in the real world would be imperceptible.”

Many colleges have established “designated areas where traumatized students can be shielded from supposedly hurtful or unwelcome language that should not exist in a just and fair world,” he said.

“Safe spaces are an expression of the conviction, increasingly prevalent among college students, that their schools should keep them from being ‘bombarded’ by discomfiting ... viewpoints,” wrote Judith Shulevitz in The New York Times.

Columbia University professor Todd Gitlin recalls having to watch the Nazi propaganda film “Triumph of the Will” in a sociology class. “The pedagogical tactic was precisely to produce discomfort,” he said. “Discomfort was the crucible for a ‘teachable moment.’ ”

Denying free speech is “a horrible betrayal of everything universities are supposed to be about,” wrote Bard College professor Walter Russell Mead. But the worst thing about “PC stupidity and mandatory cocooning on campus is … the catastrophic dumbing down of a younger generation that is becoming too fragile to exist in the current world,” he said.

Smith College President Kathleen McCartney apologized for causing students to be “hurt” and “made to feel unsafe” because she didn’t object when a fellow panel member uttered the “N word” during a discussion about teaching “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” The culprit, free-speech advocate Wendy Kaminer, wrote to Ms. Shulevitz, “It’s amazing to me (students) can’t distinguish between racist speech and speech about racist speech.”

Mr. Gitlin: “Attention to the appalling causes disturbance. Deal with it. You’re at college to be disturbed.”

Colleges that shield students from the world’s harsh realities – and from opinions that differ from their own – aren’t preparing leaders for tomorrow. Because most also aren’t learning what they need to know to have productive careers, young “hothouse orchids” aren’t getting much value for the exorbitant cost of college.

Michigan’s CCI scheduled an alternative film for students who might object to watching “American Sniper.” It was a children’s movie about a stuffed bear. Could there be a better metaphor for the infantilization of the university?

When “American Sniper” eventually was screened, the 150-seat room was filled to near capacity. Most applauded as the credits rolled. Only seven students chose to watch “Paddington Bear.”

Typically only a relative handful of leftist students demand protection from “hurtful speech.” But colleges all over the country have rushed to violate free-speech rights to appease the few who complain, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Fascist wimps control the “education” of many of our children. What are we going to do about it? 

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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