If you read my columns, and of course you do, you will by now be familiar with the safe space, the trigger warning, and the post-MILO therapy sessions that have become common sights on the American campus.
They are symbols of what NYU Professor Jonathan Haidt and free speech campaigner Greg Lukianoff call the culture of “coddling” in higher education, where speech on campus is censored in order to protect the hyper-sensitive feelings of left-wing students on campus.
Well, America has just elected a President that represents a comprehensive rejection of that culture.
When I come to college campuses, I generate fairly hysterical protests. But if the President-Elect visited a college campus, I suspect activists would burn the place to the ground before the end of the night. The only building left unharmed would be the student counselling center, where tearful students would no doubt gather for a “cry-in” the next morning, complete with therapy dogs, play-doh, soporific pan pipes and aromatherapy.
There is widespread consensus that the culture of codding on campuses has gone too far. It’s not just me saying it. Some of the most loudest voices against censorship on campus are liberals: Steven Pinker, Jonathan Chait, and Jonathan Haidt to name just a few. Moderate feminists like Christina Hoff Sommers, Emily Yoffe and Cathy Young also agree that something must be done to fix the American university.
If the President-Elect’s higher education reforms are carefully judged, there is no reason why they would not attract support from across the political spectrum. On this issue at least, the establishment and anti-establishment are in agreement. So what should Trump do?
As in other areas of policy, he should start by undoing the damage of the Obama administration. The Obamas have been surprisingly robust on campus free speech issues, with both Barack and Michelle Obama telling students to toughen up and engage with their political opponents instead of retreating into safe spaces.
At least they say the right things. But consider the travesty of justice unleashed by the outgoing administration with their 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter.
The letter was a validation of the radical feminist “rape culture” panic, feeding the pernicious lie that 1 in 5 female students become victims of sexual assault while in college. It called on university administrations to consider sexual assault a Title IX issue, causing administrations across the country to fear for their federal funding and scramble to take action.
The result was the rise of kangaroo courts on campus, with male students subject to one of the most egregious strings of miscarriages of justice in American history, hauled before panels of university administrators to be branded rapists based on threadbare evidence.
The rape culture panic subsided after Rolling Stone was fooled by a hoaxer who claimed to have been gang-raped by a college fraternity, but the kangaroo courts remain. Luckily, if the Obama administration was able to wreak this much havoc with a single letter, it shouldn’t be very difficult for Trump do undo the damage with similar methods. He should do so as soon as possible.
As for safe spaces and trigger warnings, there have already been promising signs of Trump’s intentions. In an interview with Inside Higher Ed during the campaign, Trump policy director Sam Clovis said “I think in the spirit of academic freedom, a college campus should be a place where people should be allowed to express themselves to the fullest as long as they don’t injure another party.”
“When students react in a particular way and they make demands, there has to be a calm approach to it, to say, ‘Look, this is free speech and this is the speech that is on this campus. You may not agree with this individual, but this person on this campus, and you should hear what they have to say.”
This suggests that a Trump administration would encourage college administrations to reject the demands of the pro-censorship campaigners who drive the culture of coddling on American campuses. I look forward to the outrage from left-wing academics and activists when this policy begins to take shape.
Last but not least, Donald Trump is set to tackle one of the problems raised by Bernie Sanders — crippling student loans. Trump has proposed capping student loans at 12.5 percent of a student’s income per month, with full debt forgiveness after 15 years.
The proposed reform has some conservatives up in arms, who point out that forgiveness after 15 years, as opposed to the current system of forgiveness after 20, will reduce the incentive for students to choose their degrees more carefully. But Trump’s team have also hinted that his administration will take student choices – good and bad – into account.
According to Sam Clovis’ comments to Inside Higher Ed, Trump plans to ensure that colleges have “skin in the game,” sharing a loan’s risk with students and taking a role in the approval process. This will ensure that college administrations think more carefully about letting students take out a six-figure loan for a course in Feminist Dance Therapy. I mean, it’s unlikely they’ll get any of that money back if a student’s most likely career paths are burger-flipping and blogging.
From coddling to pointless majors, the American campus is in crisis. The Democrats, who rely on identity politics to propel themselves into office, would have had few incentives to tackle the problem seriously, which involves relentlessly challenging censorship and political correctness in culture, smashing kangaroo courts on campus, and slapping heavy financial disincentives on pointless social justice courses. Trump has already done the first of these, and there is no reason why he won’t do the others as well.
It’s hard to overstate just how important this is, for American society and for the political right. The power of the cultural left can be felt everywhere — in entertainment, in the arts, in the media, and in corporations. But it all starts in education.
If we can beat them there, we can beat them anywhere. Here’s hoping my Dangerous Faggot tour, which resumes on November 30 at Penn State, turns out to be just the first wave of the conservative and libertarian counterattack.