An administrator at New York University compared sensitive liberal college students to Holocaust survivors in an op-ed for The New York Times this week.
Ulrich Baer is the vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity and a professor of comparative literature at New York University. In an op-ed entitled, “What ‘Snowflakes’ Get Right About Free Speech,” Baer suggests that it’s is unfair to dismiss the sensitivities of liberal college students who wish to shut down speakers and limit the range of allowable opinion in academia, comparing their experience to that of Holocaust survivors, who he claims were often dismissed on the basis that their arguments were rooted in personal memory rather than reasoned analysis.
Widespread caricatures of students as overly sensitive, vulnerable and entitled ‘snowflakes’ fail to acknowledge the philosophical work that was carried out, especially in the 1980s and ’90s, to legitimate experience – especially traumatic experience – which had been dismissed for decades as unreliable, untrustworthy and inaccessible to understanding.
“The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks,” Baer writes, arguing that certain ideas should be considered off-limits. NYU is a private university, meaning that more liberties can be taken when it comes to restricting speech. However, all institutions of higher learning offer an internal commitment to protecting freedom of expression across the widest range of ideas possible.
Baer cites an example of a filmmaker telling a Holocaust survivor in 1985 that her personal story was too singular of a perspective to make her an expert on the Holocaust as a whole. “Madame, you are an experience, but not an argument,” the director claimed. Baer argues that the filmmaker’s decision to prioritize “reasoned analysis over personal memory” parallels the experience of coddled college students today.
Baer also makes the Orwellian claim that attempts to restrict speakers and views at colleges are “an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people, rather than censorship.” He bemoans the fact that “it has been regrettably easy for commentators to create a simple dichotomy between a younger generation’s oversensitivity and free speech as an absolute good that leads to the truth.”
“We should recognize that the current generation of students, roundly ridiculed by an unholy alliance of so-called alt-right demagogues and campus liberals as coddled snowflakes, realized something important about this country before the pundits and professors figured it out,” Baer concludes, ultimately calling on readers to appreciate those who call for stifling free speech. “We should thank the student protestors, the activists in Black Lives Matter and other ‘overly sensitive’ souls for keeping watch over the soul of our republic.”
Tom Ciccotta is a libertarian who writes about economics and higher education for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @tciccotta or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org