Ethics Hero: Northern Arizona University President Rita Cheng

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?”

Cheng replied,

“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.”

Law professor Jonathan Turley:

“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.

17 Comments

Filed under Business & Commercial, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes, Government & Politics, Leadership, Professions, Race, This Helps Explain Why Trump Is President, U.S. Society

17 responses to “Ethics Hero: Northern Arizona University President Rita Cheng

  1. Other Bill

    Let’s hear it for President Cheng. Good for her and good for NAU. I hope ASU and U of A leadership is as principled and eloquent in responding to these petulant extortionists. I’d like to see former District of Arizona US Attorney Janet Napolitano be as principled and eloquent while at her over-paid job as chancellor of the University of California system. But I’m not holding my breath.

  2. wyogranny

    This gives me hope. It also, for me, confirms my sense that the western states (excluding the west coast) are the last bastion of academics who understand why universities exist. Our last child will be attending one of them. It would be malpractice on our part as parents to subsidize a university with “safe spaces.”

    • A.M. Golden

      Our son goes to Purdue. Thus far, Mitch Daniels hasn’t put up with the safe space nonsense.

      • Other Bill

        I hope engineering schools aren’t infected with this sort of stuff. I doubt many affirmative action kids can survive engineering schools or even want to try them.

  3. Chris

    Both the professor’s responses were perfect.

  4. John Billingsley

    Great to see a university president taking a stand for excellence in higher education. I hope she is able to stand firm against the fury of the aroused social justice warriors who are unable to appreciate the professional service she is doing them.

    • Other Bill

      I’m guessing she has the full support of the trustees of the Arizona university system. They tend to be no-nonsense business people that are appointed..

  5. Sharon

    A safe place? I really don’t get it. What would this safe place look like? The only thing I can picture is some kind of sound proof padded cell with a sound proof feature. The world is a harsh place and people who don’t think the way we do or say something we think is stupid or offensive is something adults deal with every day and it is the least of their worries. At least mine. If someone is stalking me or trying to kill me…then I will start looking for a safe space.

  6. Thomas J Campagnolo DVM

    Bravo Rita Cheng! Freedom is the foundation that this country
    was built on. When we give up our freedom we destroy the foundation
    of our country.
    Too many people have lost sight of this fundamental
    concept that must be defended. The students and faculty should be
    Required to visit the graves of our sons ans daughters
    and the surviving relatives of
    those who lost their lives so we can be free.
    Could enjoy our freedom. The lessons of history have
    not been taught well to this group.
    Thomas J Campagnolo DVM

  7. Isaac

    I would LOVE to know more about the “preacher on campus” who “was promoting hate speech against marginalized persons.” Likely someone rating at around Fred Rogers Level on the scale of dangerous threats.

    • Chris

      When I was at Fresno State, at least once a year in the free speech area there was a preacher with a sign that said “You Deserve Hell,” who would yell at women for “dressing like whores” (if they were so much as wearing tank tops) and called male students passing by “faggots.” He came back every year. One time I fell into a screaming match with him that I am not proud of. I’m all for free speech, but when someone starts accosting students who are just trying to get to class, they need to go.

      • Chris Bentley

        Not that it’s at all justified, but were the male students doing anything to draw the preacher’s ire? What was the rationale for screaming slurs at males (with no indication of their orientation) who are just walking by?

      • Isaac

        I have heard that such people exist. It is not likely that it would take anything on that scale to provoke a campus activist into claiming that you “promote hate speech against minorities on campus.” Just holding a Bible would do the trick.

        I’m actually more concerned that Fresno State has a “free speech area” and it isn’t, you know, the entire campus.

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