Freedom of Thought Is on Life Support at the University of Arizona
Are student-protesters trying to bankrupt their universities? If activists at the University of Arizona get everything they want—including a whopping $500,000 diversity budget—the administration would have to raise tuition rates through the roof to keep up with costs.
A coalition of left-leaning student organizations at U of A has organized itself into a grievance group, the Marginalized Students, and published a list of demands. Their list will not surprise anyone who has read the outrageous set of demands recently issued by Western Washington University students, who spell history with an "x" (where the rest of us put the “i”) to avoid gender connotations and are seeking the creation of an entirely new college for social justice indoctrination.
The Marginalized Students want U of A to force all employees of the college, and some students—including everyone who works for the student newspaper—to undergo cultural sensitivity training. They want trigger warnings, and they want faculty members who fail to use them to be punished. They want optional separate living communities for students of color, gay students, and women (the marginalized don't like to share safe spaces, it seems). And they want diversity—a whole lot more diversity. Half a million dollars worth of diversity, in fact.
“It is important to note that these are Demands, not simply requests or suggestions,” wrote the students. “These represent thoughtful, meaningful reforms that are necessary in order to affirm the expectation of safety and real life equity. Should these demands not be met or properly negotiated to our standards, we will mobilize our students. Additionally, we will inform prospective students, faculty, staff, as well as previous faculty and staff, alumni, and anyone else who will listen of the problematic climate that is perpetuated on this campus.”
All students at public universities are entitled to safety, of course—but U of A already provides that. Perhaps the university police could be doing a better job, but there’s no reason to believe the campus is a uniquely dangerous or unsafe place for marginalized students—or anyone else, for that matter.
Of course, the activists aren’t actually talking about safety—they’re talking about emotional comfort. And they have a lot of frightening ideas about what it would take to ensure this kind of safety.
For starters, the Marginalized Students want to enact campus-wide cultural sensitivity training. This would be a requirement for everyone who either lives or works on campus, though the demands specifically single out fraternity members and the staff of the campus newspaper, the Arizona Daily Wildcat.
A broader understanding of culture is a good thing: What’s more, it's a fundamental component of a liberal arts education. U of A should—and, in fact, already does—offer students the opportunity to enrich their own knowledge by studying many different cultural traditions. But that’s quite different from cramming such knowledge down their throats as a condition of employment at the student newspaper or occupancy in a residence hall.
The list, of course, references several demands that would deprive members of campus of their ability to freely express themselves. Students of color, in particular, want administrators to publicize the “consequences” that will befall people who perpetrate microaggressions anywhere on campus. Not even classrooms are safe—the demands specifically instruct professors to institute mandatory trigger warnings and formulate alternative curriculum plans for any and all students who are offended by the regularly scheduled material.
It’s difficult to overstate how burdensome such demands would be for students and professors, since no one can predict exactly what words, concepts, images, videos, or other forms of expression will bother a random person. Nor is it appropriate to ask teachers to do so. The learning process involves grappling with uncomfortable truths: If students are unable to speak frankly—and potentially problematically—with each other, they aren’t really participating in an educational university experience.
Of course, they would have a hard enough time simply paying tuition, if the activists got their way. A $500,000 allotment for diversity initiatives is just the tip of the iceberg: Demands to hire more left-leaning faculty, create residence communities geared toward specific group identity, and employ more counselors would also impact U of A’s bottom line.
Keep in mind that administrative costs are largely responsible for driving up the cost of college at public universities. Arizona State University—U of A’s rival—presents an extreme example. According to a 2010 report by the Goldwater Institute, a right-leaning think tank, ASU increased the number of administrators per student by 94 percent between 1993 and 2007. The number of teachers per student actually declined.
The student activists at U of A say that they are marginalized, but is it not a symptom of great privilege to be in the position to demand dozens of additional services intended to coddle minds and safeguard emotions?
If they are indeed marginalized, other students might well conclude that it’s preferable they remain so. Imagine the feats of censorship an Empowered Marginalized Students group could accomplish.