Needed: College Administrators with some Guts

Needed: College Administrators with some Guts September 14, 2017

In my last blog entry I pointed out several incidents where students were attempting to shut down free speech. In that blog I looked at research that suggested a larger strategy for how dealing with the emergence of the anti-free speech movement was for professors and diversity programs to be more sophisticated and nuanced. I have little doubt that some professors and diversity trainers would not want such a solution. Many of them are quite happy with the results they are seeing on college campuses.

So while I maintain my assertion that it is important for professors to set new standards of excellence and engage in real critical thinking, I have also considered another issue that need addressing. That issue is the behavior of college administrators. A professor may have his or her own pet theory about the sort of utopia we can establish by shutting up all dissenters. If they have such a belief, then it is logical for them to resist any efforts to promote free speech for all and to have more nuanced teaching. But a college administrator should have an interest in making sure that the campus runs smoothly and that the chances for most students to learn are maximized. The anti-free speech movement does not improve those changes and so smart administrators should consider how to deal with this problem.

The good news for the smart administrator is that we have seen some examples of wise ways to handle campus protests when they cross the line. The first example can be seen in the DeVos speech I wrote about in the last entry. That was the case where the Secretary of Education was being booed by students at Bethune-Cookman. After the booing had gone on for a while, the University president, Edison O. Jackson warned the students that if this continued that their degrees would be mailed to them. In other words, they would not get the moment of walking across the stage. That lowered the protest to the point where DeVos could finish the speech. Jackson acted as an adult, and the students responded. He reminded us that we need more administrators to act as adults.

We also get a reminder of the need for adults in the second incident. Take a look at this video of the end of a protest at Ohio State. In this video you will see that the administrators decided to end the protest by telling the protestors that if they were in the building by 5 in the morning that they would be arrested and expelled. Guess what? The students were not in the building at 5. Note how calmly the administrator explains the consequence to the students. This is how you deal with students who trample the rights of others. You calmly tell them what their punishment will be and then leave it up to them to decide if the punishment is worth the protest. In this case the Ohio State students decided that it was not.

These incidents indicate that student protestors will react to proper encouragement to moderate their protests. If we have administrators with the backbone to lay out, and if necessary, enforce the consequences, students will, by and large, act accordingly. I have referred to President Jackson and the Ohio State administrators as adults which implies that the students are acting like children. Unfortunately, the comparison is valid. It is children who only see their rights and do not realize that others in their social world have valid interest and rights as well. We need adults who will help students with this mentality to learn that they have to find ways to accommodate others, even those with whom they disagree.

I actually think that most administrators know what they should do. Unfortunately, they are fearful of losing their jobs and many of them do not have the stomach to do what must be done. Who wants to stand there and be called a bigot and be cursed at? That may well happen when the administrators take the sort of stands we need for our campuses. But it is in their hands to declaw the students who want to shout down and take away the free speech rights of others. Their failure to do so makes the campus an unwelcoming place for the rest of us.

This hits me where I live because I am charged to teach students and introduce them to new ideas. I cannot imagine being told that I cannot be kept safe on campus as Bret Weinstein, the professor in the middle of the Evergreen incident has been told. That a professor has to fear for his safety on campus is all the evidence we need to show that this situation has gotten out of control.

I want an atmosphere where I can do my best job teaching and students from all different walks of life have the best opportunity to learn. One of the causalities of the anti-free speech movement is that students, and some professors, are hesitant to offer an opinion that does not fit within what is understood as being politically correct. It is hard to blame them if the leaders of the university will not stand up for your free speech rights. I have only begun to see how serious this problem is over the past few years in my classes here at University of North Texas, and I work hard to create an atmosphere where students are free to express themselves. I fear I will see more of stifling of discussions and diminishing of intellectual growth as time goes on even if we do not have any incidents at the University of North Texas because I will not know if the college president will have our back until there is an emergency created by the anti-free speech movement.

Want to know what happens when administrators do not stand up to the anti-free speech movement? Remember the activism that occurred at the University of Missouri? Do you know what happened after all of the commotion died down? Well enrollment dropped by 7 percent and 400 individuals lost their jobs. If college administrators will not confront the anti-free speech movement because it is the right thing to do, then let us at least hope they will do it to save their own colleges from such a decline.

I love college students. I love interacting with them and care about their growth. But most of them have not lived long enough to have figured out all of the solutions to society. They are on campus to learn and to think about what they believe. They are not here to run the campus. They do not have the life experience to handle such a task. But until our administrators take control of the campuses once again, we will find ourselves subject to their whims about free speech. Let’s hope that more of them have the guts shown by President Jackson and the Ohio State University administration.

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