During a campus forum at Northern Arizona University, President Rita Cheng was asked by a student, “How can you promote safe spaces, if you don’t take action in situations of injustice, such as, last week, when we had the preacher on campus and he was promoting hate speech against marginalized students? As well as, not speaking out against racist incidents like blackface two months ago by student workers followed by no reform and no repercussions?”
“As a university professor, I’m not sure I have any support at all for safe space. I think that you as a student have to develop the skills to be successful in this world and that we need to provide you with the opportunity for discourse and debate and dialogue and academic inquiry, and I’m not sure that that is correlated with the notion of safe space as I’ve seen that.”
Students, mainly members of the NAU Student Action Coalition, staged a walk-out after Cheng’s response. As Jack Nicholson said, they can’t handle the truth, as indeed an alarming number of college students, indoctrinated into progressive groupthink, cannot.
NAU SAC issued the following statement :
The NAU Student Action Coalition is composed of many student groups and various individuals who are being directly impacted by a range of issues highlighted at the forum on Wednesday. The NAU community invests a lot of time, money, and energy in this experience and, because of failed leadership, we are not getting a return on our investment. President Cheng’s answers at the forum were insufficient and if she’s not ready or willing to engage in these serious conversations and more importantly work towards solutions, then we do feel her resignation is necessary and would want a university President who works to provide the purpose of higher education, which is to enrich the lives of many people, students, faculty, staff and the larger Flagstaff community. We were guaranteed access, quality and excellence in our higher education student experiences and far too many students are experiencing the exact opposite.
In response, Cheng’s spokeperson said,
“NAU is safe. Creating segregated spaces for different groups on our campus only [leads] to misunderstanding, distrust and [reduces] the opportunity for discussion and engagement and education around diversity. Our classrooms and our campus is a place for engagement and respect – a place to learn from each other. NAU is committed to an atmosphere that is conducive to teaching and learning.”
“What is astonishing is that students now rally around the concept of limiting speech as a noble cause and treat unregulated speech as the danger itself. Most concerning is the doublespeak of students and faculty that true free speech means less speech. The position of the students has been fueled by faculty teaching that free speech must be curtailed as a threat to diversity and equality. It is a position that is not shared by most faculty that I have spoken with at universities, where there is rising alarm over the anti-speech values being taught to students. However, faculty are often intimidated by the threat of being called insensitive or guilty of “microaggressions”, an ill-defined catchall term being used around the country to justify speech regulation. Worse yet, some of these protests raises concerns that there is a form of mob rule as opposed to faculty control on our academic institutions.”
I don’t know what astonishes Turley, if he is indeed astonished—the professor often pulls his punches. Teachers, journalists and elected officials often make the false assertion that “hate speech” isn’t Constitutionally protected, and progressives feel entitled to define hate speech broadly as anything that opposes current left-wing cant. Prominent Democrats have argued that climate change skeptics should be arrested. Conservative speakers have been censored on campus. Last month, Vietnam war hero, author and statesman James Webb was prevented from accepting a distinguished alumni award from the Naval Academy because he once wrote an op-ed arguing that women should not be in combat. Turley correctly diagnoses the cowardice of his own colleagues, however.
I don’t know how this deadly and anti-American brain and values virus will be defeated, but it must be. More courageous academic leaders like Cheng are a vital part of the cure. It is also helpful to the cause that the University of Missouri, which launched the virus in 2015 with its complete capitulation to outlandish student demands, has seen its enrollment plummet almost 25% and has had to close six dorms. Nothing influences which principles academics are willing to fight for like their own survival.