University of Chicago dean declares war on student autonomy


You’ve probably already seen this remarkable “welcome” letter sent to incoming U of C students by Dean John Ellison. It’s probably the dumbest statement I’ve ever seen from a dean, and if you understand the usual antagonistic relationship between the professoriate and the administrative class, you know that’s a strong statement.

UCLetter

In this astonishingly clueless letter, Ellison promises “freedom of expression…without fear of censorship”, and emphasizes “civility and mutual respect”. These are good and necessary things. But then, in a rampant fit of hypocrisy and ignorance, he announces this:

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called “trigger warnings,” we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove too controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual “safe spaces” where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

Call me gobsmacked. Does Ellison even realize that his ideals of free speech are in conflict with his declarations in the above paragraph? Probably not. He’s railing against buzzwords he doesn’t understand, is proposing banning concepts that are essential for the free communication of ideas, and actually has a vision for the U of C that is antithetical to the whole idea of a university. In addition, he can’t do that, and I don’t mean that there is some rule that says he can’t, but that rejecting those concepts is literally impossible, without destroying the University of Chicago and turning it into an authoritarian prison.

Let’s start with safe spaces. Does Dean Ellison have a private office? Does it have a door on it? Does he sometimes meet with other deans in closed meetings? Then he creates safe spaces, and works in one. He is simply unaware of it, and takes the privilege for granted.

When the College Republicans meet on campus, is it OK with Dean Ellison of the LGBTQ club marches in and disrupts the proceedings with chants and signs (also, vice versa…but I suspect he’s more sympathetic to conservative organizations)? Or would it be reasonable to call campus security to eject the people who are interfering with the free expression of ideas by the organization? When you set aside a space for a specific purpose, you are creating a safe space to get the job done.

When I teach, I am an enforcer for certain rules of decorum — I create a safe space for learning. That doesn’t mean discussion is put on rails and not allowed to deviate from my plan. I might not allow a conversation about football when the topic is evolution, but if someone raises a hand and makes a creationist objection, which is wrong but on topic, I don’t allow the class to shout down the person (I have been in this situation, where the students are more discouraging of ideas than I am, and I have to crack down and insist that the class address the question respectfully). A safe space is a place where we focus on an issue, and we don’t allow distractions. I guarantee you that every class at the U of C is a safe space for a certain perspective, because that is the nature of teaching. Or does Dean Ellison think every classroom should be the equivalent of the comment section on a youtube video, where the loudest assholes are allowed to dominate?

What about trigger warnings? Ellison doesn’t understand those, either. A trigger warning is not an announcement that we won’t discuss bad, complex, divisive things. Quite the opposite: a trigger warning is an announcement that we are definitely going to talk about bad, complex, divisive things. A syllabus is a string of trigger warnings — we just tend not to think of it that way because we take for granted that the subjects are innocuous to us and are required to understand the purpose of the course.

But I once innocently listed human birth defects as a topic on a syllabus, and a distressed woman met with me to say she was worried she’d lose it in class — she’d given birth to an anencephalic baby a few years before, and she was terrified about that subject. She wanted to talk with me not because she didn’t want to hear about birth defects — on the contrary, she really wanted to learn about it, but she was conscious of her own emotional reaction — and wanted some clearer idea of what I was going to say and show. I told her that in fact I was going to focus primarily on neural tube defects, and that yes, I had some photos of the phenomenon, but the focus was primarily on mechanisms. It was enough that she knew what to expect so she could prepare for it, and she just asked that I let her know before I showed the photos.

I always do that. Before I show students a photo of a deformed fetus, I tell the students that I’m going to show them a photo of a deformed fetus. That’s basic empathy and respect, the very things Dean Ellison says students should expect, while insisting that they’re forbidden if they’re labeled “trigger warnings”. I’m not interested in suddenly springing a shockingly graphic image on the class to make students vomit in the aisles and weep — that’s not a strategy for good learning.

That’s a trigger warning. And I learned that lesson almost 30 years ago, when we didn’t call them trigger warnings, although it was exactly the same thing. Does Dean Ellison think we should talk about controversial topics, but we should always surprise the students with them?

Let’s talk about cancelling controversial speakers. I actually sort of agree with Ellison on this one — once a speaker is invited, there’s an obligation and commitment to carry through on it. But what’s not being talked about is the process that leads to those speakers being invited. Who’s selecting them? Who’s paying for them? What’s the purpose behind bringing that particular person to campus? There are a lot of strings being pulled behind the scenes that the students don’t see until there is an announcement in the school paper or on a poster that hey, U of C is bringing a war criminal to campus! Or an anti-war activist! Then what?

Does Dean Ellison suggest that students are not allowed to be appalled at the privileges given to speakers they object to, and that they are not allowed to loudly protest? Because that would be a violation of free speech.

Let’s imagine that the U of C invites Henry Kissinger to give a lecture. Will they create a “safe space” for him, and not allow protesters to disrupt the event? To avoid the appearance of giving a “trigger warning”, will they refuse to announce the date, time, and place of the lecture, and even that War Criminal Kissinger will be on campus? Just all of a sudden, Henry Kissinger will show up in a random class and surprise everyone by telling them about the realpolitik of murdering civilians en masse. That’s basically what they’re going to have to do to enforce the ridiculous policies in that astonishingly stupid paragraph.

But they’re not going to. That’s because that paragraph is not about policing behaviors that every responsible university does naturally, that is an implicit part of teaching and learning. It’s because he is sending a different message.

We all create safe spaces and give trigger warnings and expect that our institutions of higher learning will feature worthy speakers. It’s just that if you are part of a privileged, dominant majority, you don’t have to say it: you can trust that your values will be well represented, sheltered, and unchallenged. It’s only if you are a member of a minority that you find it necessary to be explicit and openly demand a place for your ideas; these phrases about “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” only evolved because people found that institutions were unthinkingly assuming that the majority (and the money) rules, and it took hard work to hammer out room to talk about alternative views or oppression or privilege.

The problem is that now those phrases are used as red flags to tell that privileged majority that, hey, look, here’s a minority group that’s trying to carve out a place in our university — quick, shout ’em down. Silence them. Make up rules to break them apart, to allow us to openly disrespect their concerns, to allow us to shove horrible people in their faces while not allowing them to complain. This is not about encouraging “freedom of expression”, it’s about creating tools to club down anyone who opposes the accepted status quo.

And the University of Chicago has a Dean of Students who supports this regressive attitude, and who is pleased to be able to tell new students that they are disrespected unless they conform.

Shame on the dean, shame on the University of Chicago, and shame on all those people I see who consider this a good thing. Unsurprisingly, a lot of those fans seem to be people who also detest feminists and Black Lives Matter, a degree of correlation that ought also to cause some soul-searching among the progressive people who don’t see anything wrong with that letter. You’re on the side of Libertarians, the Daily Caller, and Breitbart.

You’re also on the side opposite that of thoughtful professors who are aghast at the authoritarian privilege on display.

As a faculty member, I would be enormously dismayed if my dean sent this letter to my incoming students. Because now they’ll come into my class already having received a clear message about what my institution seems to value-and it isn’t them. The Chicago letter reeks of arrogance, of a sense of entitlement, of an exclusionary mindset; in other words, the very things it seeks to inveigh against. It’s not about academic freedom, it’s about power. Know your place, and acknowledge ours, it tells the students. We’ll be the judge of what you need to know and how you need to know it. And professors and students are thus handcuffed to a high-stakes ideological creed. Do it this way, in the name of all that is holy and true in the academy. There is no room here for empathy, for student agency, or for faculty discretion.

Bradford DeLong has a similar view of the necessity of safe spaces and trigger warnings. He’s responding to a rather twisted article that calls Ellison’s letter an “affirmative case for a liberal conception of campus free speech”, which is not just a charitable reading, it’s an I’m-giving-everything-away-and-taking-a-vow-of-poverty reading.

Comments

  1. carlie says

    There is another angle of privilege to this as well – the concept that students are people who need to be “taken out of their cmofort zones” and “shocked with reality” in order to understand the importance of a subject or to create a memorable learning experience. It is both privileged and ignorant to assume that each and every student is a pampered sheltered larva who has never encountered the subjects being taught. I saw a professor on twitter yesterday who used as an example a picture of a lynching, as if there would never be students in their class who have lived with racial hatred and violence their entire fucking lives up to that point. She thought that students needed to be “shocked” with that evidence to understand that people really did hate each other for their skin color. Sure, some don’t know it, but some know it intimately.

    It’s serious privilege to not get that other people have different lived experiences than you.

  2. Sastra says

    Yes, without clearly defining what he personally means by the terms “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” and canceling speakers because they are “controversial” Dean Ellison opens himself up to just these criticisms. I suspect he’d agree with everything you wrote and then say that wasn’t what he meant. And if he gave specific examples of what he actually meant the argument might into whether those are really representative or not.

  3. says

    I’m trying very hard to imagine how he would define safe spaces in a way that 1) was not completely contrary to the definitions of people who advocate safe spaces, 2) identifies which safe spaces he thinks are bad and unsupported by the university, and 3) which doesn’t immediately give away the bigoted, regressive game he is playing.

  4. says

    Jerry Coyne has the opposite take (https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2016/08/25/the-u-of-c-sends-letter-to-incoming-students-decrying-safe-spaces-and-trigger-warnings-promoting-free-speech-and-refusing-to-withdraw-speaker-invitations-hooray/), over on his not-blog, which is interesting since you’re both smart atheists who I read and respect. So it would be very interesting to see the two of you debate this directly with each other. I’m going to make the same suggestion over on his post.

  5. Erp says

    I’ll note that I was talking to one student yesterday who saw ‘safe space’ as meaning certain positions (the student’s example was opposing Black Lives Matters) should be banned from the student’s campus and she supported this. So Ellison may have some justifiable concerns of people taking the idea of safe space too far.

  6. says

    Coyne despise me, and the commentariat on his blog even more so, so you’re not going to get a sympathetic response. I’d rather you didn’t, because his oh-so-civil commenters will just start sneering.

    And reading that post…no, there isn’t an iota of agreement between us on this subject. Ick.

  7. says

    Interesting, I was not aware of the bad blood between you two. That’s a shame, because this is a difficult issue, and I have some sympathy for both perspectives on it – a good debate between the two of you would help people like me to make up our minds. Oh well. The comment is already up on Coyne’s not-blog; sorry, I would have respected your request but didn’t see it until too late. (I posted the comments pretty much simultaneously.)

  8. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    Speaking of safe spaces, when I was at UC in the early ’80s, the school was about 90% white, in a mixed, middle-class neighborhood surrounded by poor, mostly black neighborhoods. I think the diversity of the school has improved since then, but the neighborhoods haven’t changed much. One of the most memorable lessons I had as an undergrad came on the last day of an intro to art history class, taught by a professor whose area of expertise was urban architecture. He took us on a walk around the neighborhood, pointing out all the elements designed to keep people from the surrounding neighborhoods out.

    In other words, Hyde Park is one large safe space, designed to protect the mostly white, mostly upper middle class students from the urban reality of Chicago.

  9. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    An addendum: when I was there, UC had the largest private police force in the world. Can’t say if that’s still the case.

  10. themadtapper says

    It’s almost a sure bet that whenever you see someone making an excessive show of loving freedom of expression that they’re either about to say something really shitty and don’t want to own the consequences or they’re about to say something that files directly in the face of freedom of expression. And what do you know, that letter quickly went from “muh freeze peach” to “SAFE SPACES TRIGGER WARNINGS PROTESTORS RABBLE RABBLE RABBLE”. You know what mister dean? Other people have freedom of expression too, and of assembly and protest too, for that matter. They’re free to assemble in safe spaces and express their disdain for hurtful actions and words of other. They’re free to express their disdain for hurtful or inconsiderate actions by walking out or protesting. They’re free to express consideration for others by warning them that conversations are about to go into sensitive areas. Decrying those things is the polar opposite of supporting freedom of expression.

    Like creationists with “if we came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys”, these kinds of people are engaged in a battle against a straw version of their opponent. In their world of straw, trigger warnings exist to give people an opportunity to run away from ideas they don’t like rather than as an act of consideration. Safe spaces are just bubbles where people get together to hide from ideas they don’t like rather than places where there are rules of decorum and hurtful, hateful talk and actions are not tolerated. Student protests are just a way to drive opponents away so as to win by default rather than an expression of outrage over the use of public funds to give a platform to speakers with reprehensible views.

    It’s people like this dean who are in fact running away from things they don’t want to hear. They don’t want to be told they should approach sensitive topics sensitively. They don’t want to be told that their ideas are bad and the students are going to go somewhere where they don’t have to listen to it. They don’t want to be told that their speakers are terrible people with terrible views. They want a captive and silent audience. They want to be free of criticism and ridicule. They ironically want, as PZ pointed out, a safe space carved out for their repellent views.

  11. cartomancer says

    I agree with PZ that the concepts encapsulated by the terms “trigger warning” and “safe space” are age-old and unremarkable – in education specifically but in pretty much all human discourse. I do, however, think that these particular terms aren’t perhaps the most helpful of language in expressing them.

    “Trigger warning” sounds far too dramatic and violent for what it is – “content notice” or the like is much more apt and less overblown. I’m not averse to “safe space” myself, because it communicates well what the concept is about, but I can see that it is wide open to misinterpretation and, in our culture of toxic masculinity where danger and confrontation are lauded and safety and security sneered at, an obvious target for noxious attitudes. I’m not sure what a better term, less open to misinterpretation, would be.

  12. gmcard says

    I don’t like the wording of or the assumed motivation behind the dean’s letter. But it’s also disingenuous to act as if there are no problems regarding the silencing of viewpoints that have occurred and been justified by safe space/trigger warning activists. Look at the fiasco with UK student unions no-platforming gender-critical feminists and ex-muslims. Yes, everyone should be able to have a safe space. But there is a sizable contingent in the (mostly younger) academic left that demands the entire University be a safe space (or more accurately, *their* safe space). Trigger warnings are a concept that are similarly abused. No, students don’t need to be shocked out of comfort zones. Students should have a clear understanding of topics that will be covered in a course, particular if it involves potentially disturbing content. But there’s an implicit message in trigger warnings that goes beyond this. It’s not merely “course contains discussion of X”, it’s “X is bad”. Because often these trigger warnings are going beyond basic summarization of content; there’s an editorial process and introduction of bias. Is there anything wrong with a statement like “course covers gender-critical theory”? No. If it says “trigger warning: transphobia”? Yeah, that’s extremely problematic. Should all evolutionary biology courses get “trigger warning: blasphemy” slapped on them in the course catalog?

  13. Johnny Vector says

    Reading along, yup, sure, no problem. Second paragraph, absolutely right. Then

    [RECORD SCRATCH. MUSIC STOPS]

    Paragraph three. Apparently he forgot to include those stage directions. But it happened in my brain anyway.

  14. KG says

    since you’re [PZM and Jerry Coyne] both smart atheists who I read and respect – Ben Haller@4

    Really? In that case:

    Interesting, I was not aware of the bad blood between you two. – Ben Haller@7

    is simply unbelievable. So I simply don’t believe it.

    this is a difficult issue – Ben Haller@7

    No, it’s a very simple one. The issue is whether someone really respects everyone’s equal right to consideration, and of freedom of speech and assembly, and so recognises the need for trigger warnings and safe spaces and the right to protest against a speaker, or in practice only recognises the rights of those in authority and those with privilege.

  15. Vivec says

    @12

    No-platforming isn’t a thing, and refusing to give a platform to pseudoscientific transphobic bigots is a perfectly valid use of free speech.

    You are not obligated to give a playform to every bigot with a manifesto, especially when said platform comes with payment for the speaker.

  16. Vivec says

    If I refused to give a speaking position to Ken Ham or David Icke, am I ~no platforming~ them for not wanting to promote their batshit beliefs?

  17. KG says

    Ben Haller@17,
    I see you don’t actually come up with a way I could believe it. I’m not the White Queen, nor do I have her abilities.

  18. brett says

    That letter is appalling, and bizarre as well. The University of Chicago is presumably not about to ban student clubs and associations for various groups, and it’s not like they had some kind of mandatory trigger warning policy in the wings – it was something that professors could decide upon class by class.

  19. johnrockoford says

    Dammit PZ, this is why I read you every day while I gave up on Coyne some time ago: I read John Ellison’s letter yesterday, and while it made me feel queasy I couldn’t articulate exactly why. It seemed rather commonsensical, so I suspected my liberal biases were triggered and I wasn’t reading it dispassionately and rationally. Then you come along and you eviscerate his logic and you explain methodically and precisely why I was right to feel queasy. Shit man, you’re smarter than me and that’s why I read you every day. Just so you know.

  20. says

    KG, what you believe or don’t believe is not my problem. If you have difficulty believing true things, realigning your brain is your own responsibility. Good luck with it.

  21. says

    Should all evolutionary biology courses get “trigger warning: blasphemy” slapped on them in the course catalog?

    First day of classes, I spell it out for my students: we’re going to be talking the theory of evolution, which is central to the entire biology discipline. Trigger warning! It doesn’t mean I’m not going to talk about it, it means I am, and am preparing the audience. It’s also spelled out in the university catalog, and we explain that to prospective students.

    Also, because I have a reputation I can’t escape, I give them another warning: I’m a big fat noisy atheist. But I also assure them that their faith or lack thereof are not obstacles (or advantages) to doing well in the class.

    Look at that. I give the big trigger warnings on day one, first 5 minutes. And I do that because I respect my students and value clarity.

    Unlike Dean Ellison.

  22. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Ben Haller, what are you trying to accomplish, other than appearing to be a troll? Discuss the details of the article by staying on topic, which is MIA. Don’t snipe at people.

    [Nerd, please notice that this is also an example of “sniping at people”. –pzm]

  23. gmcard says

    And Vivec perfectly captures why there’s a perfectly justifiable backlash against the safe space/trigger warning crowd. Someone thinks our social notion of gender is problematic? Pseudoscientific transphobic bigot!!! Says no-platforming doesn’t exist, follows with a clause supporting no-platforming! Amazing, I think most people would have to wait for a new sentence before so totally and hypocritically reversing themselves. And of course, the disingenuous spin of “I’m not obligated to host” when the problem of the attack dog safe space crowd is preventing other people from hosting whom they want, either through having student unions override member organizations or outright disruption of events.

  24. says

    I’m not quite sure why people are being so suspicious of Ben Haller. Neither PZ nor Jerry tend to mention the other in their blogs. It would be simple for someone to have read both for months without finding out about their fundamental disagreements.

  25. Matt G says

    The incredible irony regarding Coyne is that he drones on and on about free speech, but if you ruffle his feathers even the slightest bit, he demands an apology or bans you. Weapons grade hypocrisy. He’s been on a tear about the “regressive left” for the last year or two, and I only post on rare occasion to hint at his hypocrisy.

  26. Vivec says

    @24

    Someone thinks our social notion of gender is problematic? Pseudoscientific transphobic bigot!!!

    Assuming you were referring to the recent hubbub over Germaine Greer or Alice Dredger, yes, I absolutely stand by them demonstrably being pseudoscientific transphobic bigots. If you were referring to some mythical TERF that is neither transphobic nor pseudoscientific, then my apologies.

    Says no-platforming doesn’t exist, follows with a clause supporting no-platforming!

    That’s because I don’t believe “no-platforming” is a thing. Universities aren’t required to give platforms to any crank that wants one, and as places of higher learning should absolutely refuse to promote pseudoscience.

    Just to be clear – do you think it would be “no-platforming” for a university to turn down Ken Ham or David Icke for speaking? Did twitter “no-platform” Milo Yiannopoulos when they closed his account?

  27. says

    And Vivec perfectly captures why there’s a perfectly justifiable backlash against the safe space/trigger warning crowd. Someone thinks our social notion of gender is problematic? Pseudoscientific transphobic bigot!!!

    We really need a name for this phenomenon. You know what I’m talking about.

    A: We need to do something about racism/homophobia/transphobia/misogeny!

    B: First, we have to do something about those people who call racists/homophobes/transphobes/misogynists mean names.

  28. gmcard says

    PZ @ 22

    No, you’re not giving out trigger warnings. In an ideal, abstract sense, sure, “trigger warning” would just be shorthand notation for a succinct summary of content, particularly content that can reasonably be expected to have an emotional impact. I’d love to see direction from administration to faculty develop course summaries and syllabi with that in mind, to encourage the kind of information you have providing students.

    But can you really say that kind of dry, uneditorialized summary is what “trigger warning” proponents are demanding? They want their biases officially sanctioned and all material labeled according to their criteria (comparisons to GMO labeling are coming to mind). That’s why my question wasn’t whether biology course descriptions should note that evolution is a key topic; of course they should. But would it be right for administration to buckle to evangelist pressure and put “trigger warning: blasphemy” on your course? For them to put “trigger warning: anti-Catholic bigot, desecrated body of the Lord” on your bio?

  29. AnatomyProf says

    Like Ben Haller, I also read Coyne. I enjoy seening differing opinions on issues like this. I don’t fully agree with either perspective and often feel that each author has become more entrenched over the years. I don’t often comment on either site because I feel that both audiences are more polarized that the authors, more often seeking to enforce concensus rather than probe any nuance I topic. What do I know though? I teach at a community college. My students differ in many ways from university students in the Midwest. My fellow instructors are, perhaps, far more conservative. I don’t know that I have any firsthand experience with this topic. What I read suggests that there is room for discussion and disagreement within the boundaries of reason. It appears that the University of Chicago statement did not come across well. Did it come across as intended? Will it be revised, or will Ellison feel too defensive to do so? Was it written out of a concern that some students do seek to have the entire campus serve as a safe zone, perhaps only for their perspective? Does this happen, as it often does online, with shouting down of opposing views? How do we encourage free speech, allow protest, and get students to play a role in speaker selection? I’m not convinced that I can say that here isn’t a problem to be addressed. It might be fruitful to determine what the answer is rather than simply recognizing that this answer is wrong.

  30. says

    gmcard: Bullshit.

    I’m at a university. I read feminist literature. I follow lots of “social justice warriors”. Never have I seen anyone demand the kind of wild, sweeping “trigger warning” of everything that is dribbling out of your fevered imagination, and which would be totally ineffectual and pointless anyway. You’re just making stuff up.

  31. billroberts says

    This is one of those posts that keep me coming back to this blog every day. Thank you, Dr. Myers, for such a clear and succinct explanation of this subject.

  32. gmcard says

    Well, yes, I think we should do better than call racists/homophobes/transphobes/misogynists mean names. But assuming you mean “calling them out for their racism/homophobia/transphobia/misogyny”, no, I don’t think anything needs to be done about that, first, last, or in between. However, unjustly smearing topics such as gender-critical theory as transphobic and its supporters as transphobes, particularly when it leads to fools labeling long-time intersex advocates and feminists such as Alice Dreger as dangerous undesirables who must be blocked at any cost from addressing students who invited and hosted her, yeah, that is absolutely included in the list of things “to do something about”.

  33. gmcard says

    PZ, are you still on speaking terms with Ophelia? I understand why you wouldn’t trust some mostly lurker rando on your forum, given the constant trolling, but she can steer you towards plenty of evidence that this is exactly what safe space/trigger warning means to a majority of its student proponents.

  34. Vivec says

    Alice Dreger as dangerous undesirables who must be blocked at any cost from addressing students who invited and hosted her, yeah, that is absolutely included in the list of things “to do something about”.

    Because, as we all know, there’s nothing transphobic or dangerous about supporting a theory that labels trans women as just being fetishists who just want to literally get off on the idea of seeing themselves as women.

  35. says

    Jerry Coyne is full of shit.

    The most telling paragraph is the third, to wit:

    Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

    You can imagine the huge smile that splayed across my face when I read that! We have had incidents in the past in which speakers were shouted down and forced to terminate their talks early, and I expect that the College will now do all it can to prevent that.

    He’s literally (and I do mean LITERALLY) complaining about speakers not being given a safe space and are being confronted with ideas and perspectives at odds with their own!

  36. says

    As a person who got a MA from UChicago I have a couple of things to say:

    1) I received trigger warnings in class.

    2) I was taught to give them in my Teaching at the Community College course.

    3) I’m dying to hear what some of the faulty are saying about this.

    4) Professor Myers is spot on.

    5) But it’s UChicago or UfC

    @Vivec

    I’m fine saying Milo whatever was no platformed because no platforming is permissible.

  37. Vivec says

    I’m fine saying Milo whatever was no platformed because no platforming is permissible.

    That’s fine, I just don’t think that “no-platforming” is a meaningful phenomena that needs its own term. Every singular time I’ve seen it used, it was to describe a perfectly valid refusal to give a speaking position to someone.

  38. jefrir says

    erp

    I’ll note that I was talking to one student yesterday who saw ‘safe space’ as meaning certain positions (the student’s example was opposing Black Lives Matters) should be banned from the student’s campus and she supported this. So Ellison may have some justifiable concerns of people taking the idea of safe space too far.

    gmcard

    Yes, everyone should be able to have a safe space. But there is a sizable contingent in the (mostly younger) academic left that demands the entire University be a safe space (or more accurately, *their* safe space).

    Would you be okay with a university banning a branch of the KKK or a group of Neo-Nazis from meeting on campus? How about from posting threatening messages, or burning crosses?
    Because yes, actually, I do see part of a university’s role as being to protect its students, to enable them to pursue their education, including of challenging ideas, without fearing that they will be targeted because of things like their race or sexuality.

  39. says

    I should really say some forms of no platforming are acceptable. Obviously literally shouting a speaker down and/or heckler’s veto is impermissible.

    But a private business denying service is fine to me.

    @vivec

    *shrug* I think it’s a useful short hand.

  40. robro says

    The scare quotes say it all. He’s using dog whistles. I’m surprised he didn’t mention politically correct, another favorite canard of privileged, white males who are just sick and tired of hearing people say they are sick and tired of hearing white men demean women, blacks, and other people.

  41. carlie says

    I also prefer the phrase “content note” because not every reaction that would be helped by prior notification fits within the definition of being triggered, but that’s a really minor point and kind of obscures the intent – if being triggered is on the furthest end of the spectrum of bad reactions and they’re against even notifying the people who would have the most severe reaction, that, there’s nowhere else to go in terms of argument.

  42. Siobhan says

    However, unjustly smearing topics such as gender-critical theory as transphobic and its supporters as transphobes,

    Considering “gender critical theory” is only consistent when you reject the lived experiences of trans people, I would not say it is unjust to call either the theory or its proponents transphobic.

    The gendercrits continue to be tedious as ever.

  43. The Mellow Monkey says

    gmcard @ 30

    But can you really say that kind of dry, uneditorialized summary is what “trigger warning” proponents are demanding? They want their biases officially sanctioned and all material labeled according to their criteria (comparisons to GMO labeling are coming to mind).

    Who are these fabled “trigger warning proponents” you’re talking about? Because PZ and many people here in the comments support warnings/content notes. Might some people use them in ways that you disagree with? Perhaps. So? As a friend of mine put it this morning, “this is like saying that you’re going to oppose eating vegetables because you dislike PETA.”

  44. brucegee1962 says

    For the first time this semester, I gave my class an extensive trigger warning at the beginning of my British Lit 1 class. The lit we’re covering (Brit Lit from Beowulf to 1800) has all manner of rapes, assaults, and people doing terrible things to one another, and I want my students to be warned that if that’s going to bother them, then they might want to consider taking a different English class (part 2 from 1800-1940 is much more sedate).

    I don’t think I can make that classroom a “safe space” in terms of avoiding unpleasant topics. But I hope I can make it safe at least insofar as students treating one another with respect. And I hope that any students who come by my office will see it as a safe space as well, for whatever subjects they wish to discuss.

  45. gmcard says

    Vivec @ 36

    Yes, that’s precisely what Dreger has said, that every single transwoman is a transformation fetishist. Your scrupulously honest contribution is noted.

    jefrir @ 40

    It’s complicated? I know there’s a vocal absolutist wing of the left, mimicing the absolutism of the Tea Party, that hates that answer, but it is complicated. Would I want a university renting out space for a KKK rally? No. Would I want a university to allow threatening messages? What do you mean by threatening? An actual call for violence against a particular person or ethnicity? Obviously not. But the mere promulgation of white supremacism is threatening and harmful–but if a university has a public space for posting fliers, should they officially ban KKK from announcing off-campus rallies? I question whether that’s a good idea. Similarly, would I want a university to invite David Duke to be a commencement speaker? Absolutely not. But should a campus Young Republicans group that has their own facilities at the university be allowed to bring in David Duke to speak to their members? I think yes, they should have that right. It would be equally right for sane students to protest and raise awareness of how tightly coupled the Republican agenda is entwined with racism, but that doesn’t mean stopping the CYRs from having their event. But I’d have administration/campus policy present, and if Duke started inciting a riot, he’s out and the CYR are going to have to justify their continued on-campus presence.

    Siobhan @ 44

    Gender critical theory in no way rejects the lived experiences of transpeople. Categorizing gender as an artificial, socially imposed construct is entirely compatible with both body dysphoria the internalization of social gender requirements and identification with a non-assigned gender.

  46. carlie says

    Another example of when a content note can be extremely useful to everyone involved:

    I teach a class that is pretty non-controversial, except that reproduction day is a bit graphic given how some organisms reproduce. It wasn’t clear from the topic heading in the syllabus exactly what would be included (if you are a nonmajors bio student, “reproductive strategies in invertebrates” doesn’t sound that bad, right? Until you get there and suddenly there are penises with spikes breaking off inside females and being decapitated increasing sperm transfer and penis fencing and such). So one year it was that day, and I went into class, and met the face of a 10-year old who had been brought in with a very apologetic mom (it was bad weather and school had been canceled and there were few other choices).

    If I had been more clear in the syllabus what was to be covered, the student might have elected to stay home that day, or be sure to bring headphones. Or, she might have contacted me to let me know it was ok with her to continue on the subject in front of the child. As it was, there was no time for either of us to think about it, and I quickly adapted the lecture and skipped all of the really graphic stuff and went back and filled it in the next class period. But think of all of the stress and effort that could have been saved had she known ahead of time. Because, you know, planning.

  47. Infophile says

    I see fears of “no platforming” as actually being about feeling an entitlement to a platform. Imagine if in a parallel world, people were complaining about “no kitchening” because complete strangers wouldn’t let them into their houses to use their kitchens. Why would that be a problem at all, unless they felt entitled to that right? Here, anyone complaining about “no platforming” is betraying the fact that they feel entitled to a platform and so it’s wrong to deny it to them.

  48. Vivec says

    Yes, that’s precisely what Dreger has said, that every single transwoman is a transformation fetishist. Your scrupulously honest contribution is noted.

    Is she not a proponent of the “autogynephilia” theory? If so, then yes.

    Also, I’m not really interested in honest responses to TERFs. I’d laugh and mock a white nationalist propping up some ~race realisim~ bullshit, and I laugh and mock TERFs and their ~gender critical~ bullshit.

    Would I want a university renting out space for a KKK rally? No. Would I want a university to allow threatening messages? What do you mean by threatening? An actual call for violence against a particular person or ethnicity? Obviously not. But the mere promulgation of white supremacism is threatening and harmful–but if a university has a public space for posting fliers, should they officially ban KKK from announcing off-campus rallies? I question whether that’s a good idea. Similarly, would I want a university to invite David Duke to be a commencement speaker? Absolutely not.

    Oh, okay, so it’s okay to ~no platform~ people if they’re bigots you’re personally against, but us uppity trans leftists need to shut up and let TERFs tell us that we’re all just fetishists.

  49. The Mellow Monkey says

    Would I want a university renting out space for a KKK rally? No. Would I want a university to allow threatening messages? What do you mean by threatening? An actual call for violence against a particular person or ethnicity? Obviously not. But the mere promulgation of white supremacism is threatening and harmful–but if a university has a public space for posting fliers, should they officially ban KKK from announcing off-campus rallies? I question whether that’s a good idea. Similarly, would I want a university to invite David Duke to be a commencement speaker? Absolutely not.

    So what you recognize as bigotry is a problem and it’s quite reasonable and rational to have limitations against it, but what trans people call bigotry isn’t a problem? Do you see how your own biases might be influencing your point of view here?

  50. qwints says

    PZ, I don’t understand your position about the use of security to eject protesters from an event. Are you saying that both of these examples are justifiable examples of enforcing a safe space on a college campus?

    would it be reasonable to call campus security to eject the people who are interfering with the free expression of ideas by the [college republicans]? When you set aside a space for a specific purpose, you are creating a safe space to get the job done.

    and

    Will they create a “safe space” for [Kissinger], and not allow protesters to disrupt the event?

    Vivec

    That’s fine, I just don’t think that “no-platforming” is a meaningful phenomena that needs its own term. Every singular time I’ve seen it used, it was to describe a perfectly valid refusal to give a speaking position to someone.

    The fact that it’s a justifiable or valid tactic doesn’t mean it’s not a tactic. The UK NSU calls their efforts against fascists and others a “no platform policy,” and everyone knows what it means. I disagree with the efficacy of the tactic, but, as you say, it’s a perfectly ethical one (with the exception of using violent direct action to enforce it as some antifa groups do).

    Infophile

    Here, anyone complaining about “no platforming” is betraying the fact that they feel entitled to a platform and so it’s wrong to deny it to them.

    In some circumstances, sure. I don’t have a say in who a group I have no affiliation with decides to host. In other circumstances, when I am a member of a group deciding who to host, then I do get some say about that groups policies. And, in the US, there are instances when “no platforming” isn’t done by a private group controlling its own platform (either because it’s done through civil disobedience or when a state actor is involved.)

  51. mnb0 says

    As a total outsider who never has been confronted with the issue I found it hard to decide what to think of it. You did an excellent job dismantling Jerry Coyne’s pride and joy. I hope he has read the tattoed prof; thus far he hasn’t mentioned it.

  52. says

    I, also, want to say that trigger warnings can actually help increase open dialogue. Look I teach a Form/Structure in the Arts course. I show things like Piss Christ as examples of works that people may reject as art because they are (can be) offensive. If I didn’t have a formal etiquette to handle that, I would be extremely reluctant to use Piss Christ. I feel more comfortable teaching certain topics because there is a way to make sure people are prepped for a topic that can get emotional.

    conservative students can use trigger warnings too.

    people are so silly about this. I honestly don’t get the hatred towards trigger warnings at all. I use them so I can teach controversial topics.

  53. nmcc says

    Comment 26
    “The incredible irony regarding Coyne is that he drones on and on about free speech, but if you ruffle his feathers even the slightest bit, he demands an apology or bans you. Weapons grade hypocrisy. He’s been on a tear about the “regressive left” for the last year or two, and I only post on rare occasion to hint at his hypocrisy.”

    That is practically word for word what I said in a comment a day or two ago. You are absolutely spot on. Coyne has the thinnest skin imaginable, and he nearly dies of apoplexy at the merest perceived slight against himself. That he feels justified in criticising others for a lack of democratic scruples is risible considering he’s the worst kind of petty dictator going, and shows an astonishing lack of self awareness. Which isn’t surprising since he spends most of his time up his own ass.

  54. enkidu says

    PZ, Thank you for this logical and eloquent statement. You have articulated the exact thoughts which I was struggling to verbalize.

    I used to be a great fan of WEIT, but rarely go there now, except to scan for any real science. It was mainly the references to “Regressive Left”, whatever the fuck that might be (mainly anyone who disagreed with Coyne) that drove me away. That and the mindless, stereotypical anti Muslim rants. As opposed to criticism of Islam as a religion, I mean.

  55. Tethys says

    I was curious about the qualifications for being Dean , so I looked up John Ellison. From an article in the college newspaper.

    Originally from Georgia, Ellison worked as a police officer for four years before moving to Florida for his undergraduate degree. He moved again to Massachusetts to get his Ph.D at Harvard, where his work involved research in Syria for a year. He is well versed in ancient Middle Eastern languages, and knows over 15 ancient languages and dialects.

    Huh, that seems an odd background for a job that requires administrative and educational skills. Why does he have this job at all? I then checked his credentials, and was completely not shocked to discover that he is a degreed southern bible thumper with a philosophy PhD.

    Harvard University
    Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
    1991 – 2002
    Harvard University
    Master of Arts (MA), Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
    1991 – 2000
    Harvard Divinity School
    Masters of Theological Studies, Scripture and Interpretation
    1989 – 1991
    Southeastern University
    Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bible and Biblical Languages
    1986 – 1989

    My disdain for all things associated with modern philosophy is confirmed.

  56. qwints says

    Mike Smith @54,

    people are so silly about this. I honestly don’t get the hatred towards trigger warnings at all.

    Here a couple of essays from professors who are women of color on their issues with trigger warnings:

    No trigger warnings in my class: Why you won’t find them on my syllabi

    “My trigger-warning disaster: “9 1/2 Weeks,” “The Wire” and how coddled young radicals got discomfort all wrong”

    A lot of the disconnect here comes from definitions. If all we’re talking about is saying that professors should handle potentially traumatic material sensitively and professionally, then there’s no dispute. The issues come when trigger warnings are mechanically applied by outside forces (think PMRC style stickers that leave no room for nuance). One good example from the second essay is how a trigger warning for sexual abuse would work when the point of the class is to discuss whether a particular sex scene in a movie is an example of abuse.

  57. lotharloo says

    The letter and Jerry Coyne’s blog are both boneheaded on this subject. They think university students are five years old pampered and spoiled kids who need adult intervention to be able to later function in life. However, I don’t think there is any fundamental disagreement between the two sides here it’s just that one side has no idea what’s it’s talking about.

    @26, @55
    Yes, Jerry Coyne has become the champion of Freedom of Speech going as far as declaring that “Twitter should not ban trolls!” but he regularly bans and silences people on his own blog. I’ve already banned twice (once for calling Pat Condell a racist asshole and another time for challenging Jerry Coyne on some ridiculous Israeli propaganda about “Palestinian civilian casualties being totally faked by Hamas!”). I really used to like his blog, not just for the science content but also for some goofy articles, cat pictures and so on and I even continued reading after I was twice banned but his later descend into silly “youtube culture of cluelessness” has sealed the deal.

  58. Siobhan says

    gmcard:

    Gender critical theory in no way rejects the lived experiences of transpeople. Categorizing gender as an artificial, socially imposed construct is entirely compatible with both body dysphoria the internalization of social gender requirements and identification with a non-assigned gender.

    This is why I can’t fucking stand gendercrits. It’s like you guys aren’t even speaking English anymore. No shit our dialogue isn’t going to go anywhere–you don’t see the contradiction inherent to characterizing gender dysphoria as “internalization of gender requirements” and insisting this doesn’t reject the lived experiences of trans people. (TRANS________PEOPLE THERE’S A SPACE)

    If gender dysphoria is just internalized oppression, why are monozygotic twins separated at birth both transgender when at least one sibling is trans 20% of the time? Riddle me that. While you’re at it, go join the second wave harpies arguing that heterosexuality in women is also internalized misogyny.

    For fuck sake. The blinders aren’t just on, they’re glued to your fucking skull.

  59. Vivec says

    One good example from the second essay is how a trigger warning for sexual abuse would work when the point of the class is to discuss whether a particular sex scene in a movie is an example of abuse.

    “Next class we’re going to discuss whether or not X scene from Y movie depicts sexual abuse, so prepare yourself as needed”?

    The “sending emails detailing the content and scenes in question so that the students can either prepare or not attend if they’re willing to take the hit to their grades” resolution is pretty much the norm for most of the classes I’ve taken that deal with that sort of topic, so I don’t really get how that is some objectionable extreme.

  60. Tethys says

    PhD is an abbreviation for Doctor of Philosophy.

    Yes, but you can get a PhD in many subjects that aren’t philosophy. Philosophers tend to be navel gazing, socially regressive white dudes IMO.

  61. Vivec says

    Like, I somewhat recently had a class about the portrayal of sex in film, and it had some focus on how a lot of films try to make rape/abuse scenes sexually titillating.

    The syllabus listed the movies we were going to watch, and the weekly email specified the scenes we were focusing on and gave a short synopsis of the scene and a content warning.

  62. says

    @63

    He doesn’t have a PhD in philosophy.

    He has it in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

    I have a MA in Philosophy from that school. Ellison is not involved in the department at all in terms of courses. Don’t confuse Divinity with Philosophy. It seems like his work is mostly on Middle Eastern Classics.

    Oh as for your dug at philosophers tending to be white male navel gazers:

    http://philosophy.uchicago.edu/faculty/a-callard.html
    http://philosophy.uchicago.edu/faculty/ford.html
    http://philosophy.uchicago.edu/faculty/richardson-lear.html
    http://philosophy.uchicago.edu/faculty/lazar.html
    http://philosophy.uchicago.edu/faculty/nussbaum.html
    http://philosophy.uchicago.edu/faculty/vogler.html
    http://philosophy.uchicago.edu/faculty/vasudevan.html

    With Nussbaum probably being the most powerful person in the department. Academic philosophy does have a problem with underrepresenting other groups besides white males; UChicago is among the best departments on this issue.

  63. says

    @58

    In both cases, I don’t see evidence that trigger warnings were at fault/the problem; I don’t think anyone is calling for bubble wrapping everything. The first Professor flatly starts the class with a trigger warning, and the second professor seems to have been dealing with an issue only brought up because of how she structured them. I really do wonder how much of it is structural inequity being acted against women of color and trigger warnings just being a handy tool.

    I’ll tell you what I do in my art class. I issue a trigger warning that we will be watching/viewing X, Y, and Z at the beginning of the class. I then say you might find X to be Y when it comes up for individual pieces.

    Discomfort is needful for educations, surely, but I use them to prep students for the discomfort.

    :shrug: I think this argument is largely semantics or (exclusive) reactionaries nonsense.

  64. says

    Tethys@63
    “Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations” doesn’t sound like philosophy though. Sounds more like history, anthropology, and literature.

    Again “PhD” and “Doctor of Philosophy” mean the same thing.

  65. Tethys says

    Jessie Foster

    Again “PhD” and “Doctor of Philosophy” mean the same thing.

    Again, no shit, but my point is still that it is not a PhD in education or college administration. Theology degrees generally lead to other worthless degrees and top administrative positions only if you are a white xtian dude. Apparently he take his policy ideas on trigger warnings from the MRA crowd, so it isn’t surprising that he started as a cop in Georgia, or that much of his education is degrees in mythical beings.

  66. says

    @68 Tethys

    Divinity =/= Theology =/= Near East Studies =/= Mythical Beings. Divinity schools have some of the highest levels of atheists in them. It’s actually helpful for some Deans to have a background in something other than Education or college administration so they can work with faculty and students.

    UChicago is extremely far from a teaching university; it has more graduate students than undergrads for example. It’s basically a research facility with so college classes stuck on it. It’s not all surprising to me that that the Dean of Students doesn’t have a background in education.

    This is a silly fight to pick with the guy; there’s plenty of other things to go after him on. Besides do you have any information that he is Christian? I’m sure there’s a solid chance that he his, but his educational background is a lazy and can be misleading heuristic.

  67. emergence says

    Notice how opponents of trigger warnings immediately jump to topics where they think they can make trigger warnings look unreasonable. You’d have to be a complete sociopath to think that there’s something objectionable about warning a traumatized woman that you were going to show pictures of deformed fetuses in class.

    I think The Mellow Monkey said it best. Most opponents of trigger warnings are bitching about there being trigger warnings for bigotry or grotesque imagery that they personally don’t see anything wrong with.

  68. tkreacher says

    Tethys #67,

    Again, no shit, but my point is still that it is not a PhD in education or college administration.

    No, you were explicitly going off on a tangent about degrees in philosophy, navel gazing philosophers, and your disdain for modern philosophy. This is what everyone is correcting you on. This person’s PhD is in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, not philosophy.

    You were wrong, you were talking about irrelevancies, and so maybe just accept that and then move on to your more germane points about how he doesn’t have a PhD in education or administration.

  69. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    let ne display my ignorance again, for correction:
    I thought [nb past tense] the Ph in PhD had little to do with the specific discipline of Philosophy, but more a broad categorization of the entirety of the knowledge in the specific field. The PhD holder (doctorate) is able to contribute to (hence the Dissertation has to be “new and original contribution” to the field).

    The subject of Philosophy is a study of how knowledge works and how to use it it.

    I got that first paragraph, extrapolating from Science in general was originally referred to as Natural Philosophy.

    so a PhD in Philosophy is not actually a redundant case of redundancy (so to speak) but recognition that the doctorate is able to expand the current knowledge about how knowledge is understood. Lesser degrees recognize the ability to use the current tools to analyze knowledge, etc.

    That’s my simplistic understanding of the issue. Corrections welcome.

  70. Tethys says

    Mike Smith

    It’s actually helpful for some Deans to have a background in something other than Education or college administration so they can work with faculty and students.

    The job title Dean of Students always involves working with both students and faculty. I’m familiar with the benefits of a liberal arts education, but fail to see how degrees in divinity that lead to degrees in Mideastern languages and history qualify someone to be a college dean. None of those subjects are even a lateral step to the skill sets needed for educating or managing people.

    This is a silly fight to pick with the guy; there’s plenty of other things to go after him on. Besides do you have any information that he is Christian?

    I’m not picking a fight with him, he isn’t even participating in this conversation. Researching his credentials is not a good way to assess his qualifications? What a strange and illogical opinion. I am operating on the if it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck principal. Southeastern is a private christian college where he studied the babble, then he went to divinity fucking school, and then studied history and archeology and languages of the mideast. I sincerely doubt he isn’t anything other than an over-educated religious bigot who is clearly a bit of a stupid asshole. Exhibit A…the OP. *quack quack*

  71. Tethys says

    Oh good grief

    tkreacher ~You were wrong, you were talking about irrelevancies, and so maybe just accept that and then move on to your more germane points about how he doesn’t have a PhD in education or administration.

    My opinions about philosophers are based in having to deal with pompous philosophers, and were noted as mine own bias. Its all ya’ll that feel the need to repeatedly inform me that PhD is an abbreviation(duh!) rather than having anything relevant or engaging to add about the bias indicated by his extensive religious education might have had on writing this asinine letter.

  72. says

    @tethys

    I’m going to respond to the rest later but to be frank from the information provided he doesn’t necessarily have had a religious education; it seems more likely that he got interested in biblical languages as a matter of linguistics. He’s degree are board enough that you are being super lazy jumping to a devout Christian. He works at UChicago for Pete’s sake.

    And that he went to divinity school makes me suspect that he isn’t a devout Christian. I don’t know a single person who went to divinity school who isn’t an atheist. And I know several who went to Divinity school.

    It’s also known that ~85% of philosophers are atheists (I can provide a link tomorrow) and I would not at all be surprised if it’s a similar percent for divinity school.

    You’re judging a book by its cover.

  73. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    think PMRC style stickers that leave no room for nuance

    Why? Is anyone proposing them thinking that?

  74. Vivec says

    No, see Azkyroth, this is the standard pattern of “you SJWs have gone TOO FAR” arguments. You have to appeal to some ludicrous view held by an extreme minority (if any people even hold that view), and then continue to treat that view as the norm even when it becomes clear that no one you’re arguing with actually holds that view.

    You might know it as “these BLM protestors just want to kill cops” or “these trans people want three year olds to get gender reassignment surgery” or one of the billion other permutations.

  75. tkreacher says

    Tethys #73

    My opinions about philosophers are based in having to deal with pompous philosophers

    Cool.

    Its all ya’ll that feel the need to repeatedly inform me that PhD is an abbreviation(duh!) rather than having anything relevant or engaging to add about the bias indicated by his extensive religious education might have had on writing this asinine letter.

    You’re (still, at this late date) condescending to people who were trying to correct you on something you said. You were wrong and you’re tossing out “no shits” and “duh’s” and snark at people when you’re the one who made the inaccuracy in the first place. That grates on me, which is why I said something in the first place.

    You said,

    he is a degreed southern bible thumper with a philosophy PhD

    And this is fucking wrong. He does not have a philosophy PhD. People were trying to explain that to you, and you’ve been barking at them ever since. I mean, you can continue to pretend like you didn’t make the claim or whatever it is you’re doing, but it’s weird.

    I’d have either said, “I misspoke”, or “I read it wrong – yeah, he doesn’t have a philosophy PhD… but still I have these other points” or something.

    But sure, you can, instead, continue to go the route of talking shit about naval gazing modern philosophy PhD’s while simultaneously barking at people who were trying to correct something you’ve said, and complain they aren’t staying on topic and whatnot. To each their own.

  76. penalfire says

    I wonder if the University of Chicago dean would be willing to invite some BDS speakers to the campus and to defend their right to express controversial ideas. Would he also refuse the neocons a safe space?

  77. KG says

    KG, what you believe or don’t believe is not my problem. If you have difficulty believing true things- Ben Haller@21

    I don’t. I do have problems believing obvious crap such as you posted. If you “read and respect” both PZM and Coyne as you claim, it would be impossible for you to be unaware of the “bad blood” between them, as you also claim. So one claim or the other must be false.

  78. snuffcurry says

    Chiming in to say that this is simply some of the best, most cogent, persuasive, and elegant writing you’ve published for this here blawg, PZ. Fantastic stuff. Thank you.

  79. says

    The man has academic qualifications. There is no such thing as a “Ph.D. in Deanery” so it’s silly to argue that his training is inappropriate — college administration is something you learn by doing.

  80. Saad says

    gmcard, #47

    But should a campus Young Republicans group that has their own facilities at the university be allowed to bring in David Duke to speak to their members? I think yes, they should have that right.

    Is a Muslim cleric who verbally supports Islamic domination of the West but doesn’t directly threaten people allowed to speak at a Muslim group facility at the university about the benefits of establishing Sharia law in the United States? Or would that create an atmosphere of fear and danger and be considered offensive?

  81. says

    #79: Man, if you’ve been reading anything other people say about me, you should know that I hate everyone.

    #82: I would argue that both should be allowed, but that everyone else on campus gets to protest the hell out of them. However, of the two examples, I’d say that David Duke is the more immediate and substantial threat — he has a significant following of self-righteous assholes in the US.

  82. Tethys says

    I did inadvertently edit out a couple words between PhD and philosophy in my first comment, but how many times am I required to clarify that to people who keep ignoring the blockquoted context of his other degrees? It’s absurd to claim that Harvard Divinity school is a hot bed of atheism. This deans entire education is a model of entitled white male xtian privilege.

    Considering Harvards recent edict on campus alcohol and rape, and the clueless MRA talking points in this letter, I assumed that noticing the xtian white man privilege inherent in the higher education system pipeline was on topic. My bad.

    This article does a good job of drawing the parallels between privilege and the actions of sexist college administrators that are the product of the higher education privilege pipeline.

    there’s a lot of labor involved in speaking up in spaces where the 1st (and 2nd and 3rd) thing you gotta do is justify your presence there.

    source

  83. tkreacher says

    Tethys #84

    I did inadvertently edit out a couple words between PhD and philosophy in my first comment

    Oh.

    Then you should have said that in response to the people who were pointing out your inaccuracy rather than defensively, passively aggressively snarking at them with shit that had nothing to do with what they were correcting you about like,

    I assumed that noticing the xtian white man privilege inherent in the higher education system pipeline was on topic. My bad.

  84. says

    I think the author is confusing some issues. For one, he suggests that all meetings, talks, offices and classrooms are essentially “safe spaces.” But this notion does not really get at the matter of what is promoted as “safe spaces” in academia today, especially at elite institutions. These are spaces where people can be excluded on the basis of their gender, race, ideological predispositions, or other qualifiers. This is more than the mere courtesy and civility that is expected in offices and classrooms. This is an exclusionary notion and frankly one that at public universities is probably unconstitutional.

    As for trigger warnings, the issue is not that they should be disallowed, but rather that they shouldn’t be *required,* and that the judgment about them should fall to the discretion of the faculty member teaching a course, not to the administration. Otherwise, what we have is censorship and administrative tampering with the curriculum. Further, their existence can provide an out for students who simply do not want to confront an issue, or else do not want to do the reading, viewing, writing, or what have you.

  85. Vivec says

    Further, their existence can provide an out for students who simply do not want to confront an issue, or else do not want to do the reading, viewing, writing, or what have you.

    How is that an issue?

    Students always have the option to skip reading or attending lectures.

    No one’s saying the professor has to excuse those absences, but providing information in case someone considers avoiding the topic worth the grade loss sounds good to me.

  86. says

    Vivec, the question is whether the issuance of trigger warnings is understood by students as an implicit or explicit exemption for those who do not want to or feel that they cannot confront an issue or event. Once the warning is posted, the question of exemption is almost necessarily invoked. In contemporary pop cultural parlance, where warnings are issued in advance of graphic content or other potentially disturbing material, the implication is that the viewer’s “discretion” is paramount. This consumerist notion, when applied to education, suggests a smorgasbord approach to the syllabus is acceptable. “Don’t like depictions of racism, sexism, or colonialism, then don’t read this material.” The trigger warning is an individualistic, consumerist approach to educational material, and the consumer becomes the ultimate arbiter of what is acceptable or necessary for consumption. From there, the notion of penalizing students for what they cannot tolerate appears draconian. The trigger warning provides a ready apologia for skipping material and even entire course segments, as well as a rationale for exemption without penalty.

  87. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    This is an exclusionary notion and frankly one that at public universities is probably unconstitutional.

    The University of Chicago is a private university (Wiki).

    The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois.

    Better research on your part is required.
    A student opinion on the letter.

    But University of Chicago students themselves told ThinkProgress that they believe the letter is meant to distract from the issues student activists are most concerned about, such as a living wage for campus workers, better services for students with disabilities, and what students say are racist policing practices from university police on the South Side of Chicago.
    “Dean Ellison has repeatedly refused to meet with student leaders about critical issues, including living wages on campus, accessibility for students with disabilities, and strengthening the university’s sexual assault policy,” Anna Wood, a student and university worker who has engaged in campus activism, wrote in a statement to ThinkProgress. “It’s ironic that during my time at the University of Chicago, administrators have continuously sought to create a comfortable space for themselves free of challenge by avoiding engagement with student leaders about these issues.”…
    He also pointed out that a new provost, Daniel Diermeier, has built a career on reputation management. He wrote the book, Reputation Rules: Strategies for Building Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset, and has worked as an advisor to BP, the FBI, the City of Chicago, and Johnson & Johnson. In his book, Diermeier wrote, “But reputational challenges are not simply the consequence of wrong decisions, accidents, or bad luck; they frequently are created by activists, interest groups, and public actors with the goal of forcing changes in business practices through ‘private politics.’ Activists are competitors for the company’s reputation. They need to be treated as seriously as competitors in the marketplace.”

    Sounds like the Provost might be trying to get ahead in the game.

  88. Vivec says

    Just have a late work/lack of attendance section in the stllabus, clarifying that any student who skips work does so at the peril of their own grade.

    Most of my classes so far have had both trigger warnings and syllabi, and I’ve yet to see any huge problem with students walking out en masse.

  89. says

    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls,

    The American Association of University Professors, which is a very left-leaning organization, has deemed trigger warnings a breach of academic freedom. Here is the most relevant passage:

    “The presumption that students need to be protected rather than challenged in a classroom is at once infantilizing and anti-intellectual. It makes comfort a higher priority than intellectual engagement and—as the Oberlin list demonstrates—it singles out politically controversial topics like sex, race, class, capitalism, and colonialism for attention. Indeed, if such topics are associated with triggers, correctly or not, they are likely to be marginalized if not avoided altogether by faculty who fear complaints for offending or discomforting some of their students. Although all faculty are affected by potential charges of this kind, non-tenured and contingent faculty are particularly at risk. In this way the demand for trigger warnings creates a repressive, ‘chilly climate’ for critical thinking in the classroom.

    “Our concern extends to academic libraries, the repositories of content spanning all cultures and types of expression. We think the statement of the American Library Association regarding ‘labeling and rating systems’ applies to trigger warnings. ‘Prejudicial labels are designed to restrict access, based on a value judgment that the content, language, or theme of the material, or the background or views of the creator(s) of the material, render it inappropriate or offensive for all or certain groups of users….When labeling is an attempt to prejudice attitudes, it is a censor’s tool.’

    “Institutional requirements or even suggestions that faculty use trigger warnings interfere with faculty academic freedom in the choice of course materials and teaching methods. Faculty might feel pressured into notifying students about course content for fear that some students might find it disturbing. Of course there may be instances in which a teacher judges it necessary to alert students to potentially difficult material and that is his or her right. Administrative requirements are different from individual faculty decisions. Administration regulation constitutes interference with academic freedom; faculty judgment is a legitimate exercise of autonomy.”

    Perhaps it is you who needs to do further research. I am not in accord with deans making the kinds of proclamations that the U. of C. has made but in this case they happen to be right in the sense that triggers warnings should not be required and safe spaces are exclusionary.

    I know that the University of Chicago is a private university. My point though was that such practices as safe spaces at public universities would probably be deemed unconstitutional.
    https://www.aaup.org/report/trigger-warnings

  90. Vivec says

    My point though was that such practices as safe spaces at public universities would probably be deemed unconstitutional.

    Doubt it. We’ve asked people being douchey to leave our LGBT center before, and I’ve personally used the banhammer in our Nonbinary group at least once (for being a preachy hyperchristian, no less).

    I also still don’t see a problem with professors “feeling pressured” into providing content warnings.

    I think, ideally, they would all provide content warnings, and leave it up to the student if they judge it worth not attending and taking a hit to their grade.

    That’s certainly how it’s worked in most of the classes I’ve attended.

  91. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Perhaps it is you who needs to do further research

    I’m not the one making factually wrong claims. I only presented student opinion, not my opinion, on triggering. You obviously don’t read well.
    I do believe all people should be aware of things that may cause triggering due to incidents in their past, like rapes and the like, so that they can avoid having to discuss that which causes them extreme distress. Anybody who says they must be exposed to those events without warning is a sadist.
    Looks like you are one.

  92. says

    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls,

    You’re simply being truculent and trolish. I said nothing that was factually errant. I merely pointed to the position of the AAUP, which opposes trigger warnings. You posted student opinions. The students’ opinions have little to do with the policies reiterated in the letter and may be very well seen as changing the subject, i.e., deflections.

    As I said, I don’t believe in administrative decrees for or against trigger warnings, as the matter should be decided by the faculty members actually teaching the courses. It just so happens that the letter aligns with the position of the major representatives of university professors in the U.S. Mandatory trigger warnings are a breach of academic freedom and intellectual integrity. “Safe spaces,” as they are generally understood, involve exclusionary practices on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation and other qualifiers. They are not what the author suggests, the kinds of civility and courtesy expected in classrooms and other venues. He is being either willfully tendentious or doesn’t know what he is talking about.

  93. says

    “Anybody who says they must be exposed to those events without warning is a sadist.
    Looks like you are one.”

    The fact is that as many a PTSD sufferer can tell you, there is simply no way to know what will or will not trigger someone to have a negative reaction. As it is, trigger warnings are being used by sententious, self-righteous blowhards like yourself, whose main object is to demonstrate their supposed moral superiority over others. Meanwhile, your ilk is determined to turn the entire university into an infirmary for those deemed or deeming themselves hapless victims of discourse.

    I think that the point is that all of society should be a “safe space” for all of its members. But the model of safe spaces that prevails now has to do with an ideology not of remaking the social order, but rather one of merely protecting its victims from further victimization. Such an ideology of protecting victims cannot be also one of confronting and overcoming oppression — largely because its interpellation of subjects is one of hailing them not as active agents but as fragile and helpless victims.

  94. Tethys says

    We think the statement of the American Library Association regarding ‘labeling and rating systems’ applies to trigger warnings. ‘Prejudicial labels are designed to restrict access, based on a value judgment that the content, language, or theme of the material, or the background or views of the creator(s) of the material, render it inappropriate or offensive for all or certain groups of users….When labeling is an attempt to prejudice attitudes, it is a censor’s tool.’

    The Librarian Associations statement applies to books, and was in response to some right-wing religious groups efforts to ban some books from libraries. People are not books. Putting a content warning on material that may be difficult for people who have PTSD allows them to mentally prepare themselves. Claiming that a simple courtesy is an attempt to prejudice attitudes or censor content is bullshit.

    When You Oppose Trigger Warnings, You’re Really Saying These 8 Things

    The entire article is worth a read.

    1. Adding a Couple of Words at the Beginning of My Content Is So Hard

    Many people talk about the inconvenience of content warnings. As a writer, I’m calling bullshit on that.

    Even if writing an additional sentence at the beginning of my article were difficult (which it’s not), it will never compare to the inconvenience of a serious panic attack, a flashback, or a dissociative episode that a survivor might have if they encounter a trigger in my work.

    It allows them to access your work or your classroom – namely, by ensuring that they are in the right place to participate.

    We label the deep end of a swimming pool, for example, so that folks who can’t swim can make a smart decision about whether or not they should be on that end of the pool. We create ratings for movies so that parents can decide if their children should be watching violent films. We label foods that have allergens so that folks with allergies can decide if they should eat that particular food.

    We would never tell someone who can’t swim that they’re “too sensitive” for asking how deep the water is, tell a child “welcome to the real world” as we turn on a horror film, or tell someone with allergies to just “get over it” and eat some peanut butter.

    Content warnings operate on the same principle. They’re there to prevent danger or distress, so that, like labeling the deep end of a pool, people can make smart choices about where they’re going to swim (or, in this case, what they’re going to read or watch).

    Content warnings make content more accessible by allowing people to make the right choice and avoid threatening situations that can jeopardize our mental health. It’s not unreasonable to ask for those warnings, especially when they impact a great number of people.

  95. Vivec says

    It just so happens that the letter aligns with the position of the major representatives of university professors in the U.S. Mandatory trigger warnings are a breach of academic freedom and intellectual integrity.

    I fail to see any reason why that is necessarily the case, though. I’ve never had a class that didn’t at the bare minimum discuss and list out the material covered in the syllabus.

  96. Tethys says

    Mike Rectenwald

    The fact is that as many a PTSD sufferer can tell you, there is simply no way to know what will or will not trigger someone to have a negative reaction.

    No, most of us know very well what subjects are likely to trigger severe symptoms. We don’t get to choose not to have PTSD any more than someone with a bee allergy can choose not to go into anaphylactic shock if they are stung.

    Such an ideology of protecting victims cannot be also one of confronting and overcoming oppression — largely because its interpellation of subjects is one of hailing them not as active agents but as fragile and helpless victims.

    Helping people recover from trauma does not involve confronting and overcoming oppression. Claiming that we can’t support victims, and it’s their own fault for having been traumatized in the first place is loathsome.

  97. says

    Mandatory trigger warnings? You just made that up, Rectenwald.

    Also, you don’t understand safe spaces. Now you can do a lovely little pirouette as you fuck off.

  98. says

    PZ Meyers, you are a buffoon. Yes,I understand safe space,s and they are what I have said that they are. Yes, trigger warnings are being made mandatory at some institutions. Where have you been, you ignoramus? And you’re one of the founders of this “freethinkers” site. Ludicrous. You are antithetical to freethought. You’re actually allergic to it and wouldn’t recognize it if it bit you on the ass.

  99. says

    Tethys, “No, most of us know very well what subjects are likely to trigger severe symptoms. We don’t get to choose not to have PTSD any more than someone with a bee allergy can choose not to go into anaphylactic shock if they are stung.”

    So I suppose you are a psychoanalyst or an expert in counseling psychology? The fact is, you have no idea what will trigger someone. The sight of bubblegum might trigger someone who happens to associate it with being raped. Will you proscribe bubblegum now, too? You have no idea what the fuck you are talking about.

  100. says

    I retract my application to blog for this farcical “freethinkers” site. This is a site of surveillance and policing of thought, not unlike the kind of surveillance conducted in the nineteenth century in Britain by the Society for the Suppression of Vice. This site is a joke full of sententious assholes posing as moral authorities.

  101. says

    “Helping people recover from trauma does not involve confronting and overcoming oppression. Claiming that we can’t support victims, and it’s their own fault for having been traumatized in the first place is loathsome.”

    Strawman argument, asshole. I never said anything of the sort. I never once blamed the victims for having been traumatized. I simply said that the university cannot be made into an infirmary for protecting sufferers of PTSD. You are the reason the right wing makes a mockery of the “left.” This segment of the left is sanctimonious, sententious and tending toward fascist.

  102. says

    “The Librarian Associations statement applies to books, and was in response to some right-wing religious groups efforts to ban some books from libraries. People are not books. Putting a content warning on material that may be difficult for people who have PTSD allows them to mentally prepare themselves. Claiming that a simple courtesy is an attempt to prejudice attitudes or censor content is bullshit.”

    Can you wrap your head around the idea of an analogous situation? That’s what the AAUP is referring to –the warnings posted on library materials are analogous to trigger warnings.

    Perhaps you don’t know where this momentum for trigger warnings is coming from. It’s a co-optation of supposed “leftist” notions by administrators in order to gain a foothold on curriculum. Students demand them and they play into the administration’s hands of controlling the curriculum. Further, how unlike the movement in the 1960s is this cry on the part of students for administrative protections! It’s a pathetic demonstration of appeals for authority to protect them, rather than an attempt to challenge authority and remake the social order themselves. Every one of you is enabling students to be hapless victims and stripping them of their agency.

  103. Tethys says

    People are not books. Banning books is not analogous to providing a healthy learning environment.

  104. says

    “People are not books. Banning books is not analogous to providing a healthy learning environment.”

    People read books. Do I actually have to spell out that warnings on library materials are means to label materials that people or might not READ? Are you really that obtuse, or do you just play a moron on blogs?

  105. Vivec says

    I see no problem with labeling, say, Lord of the Flies with a content warning about violence towards children and death.

  106. Tethys says

    People don’t accidentally or inadvertently read books doofus. Didn’t PZ tell you to fuck off?

  107. says

    This segment of the left is filled with victomologists who serve to strip people of their agency by figuring them as nothing but objects of the actions and words of others, rather than treating them like agents in their own right, who can and should struggle to end oppression, rather than being encouraged to hide from it. You think you are doing service to these students, but you are effectively crippling them, all in order to make yourselves feel better and morally superior. This is far cry from the real left that aims to overthrow the social order, rather than cowering in safe spaces like babies. You people suck.

  108. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    Giving people information so they can make an informed decision is “… stripping them of their agency.” Riiiight…

  109. Vivec says

    I don’t feel particularly crippled from the content warnings every non-mathematical class I’ve taken has issued, but hey, you know best I guess.

  110. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    Your argument has an unstated premise: that people suffering from PTSD benefit from being confronted by problematic images and subjects without prior warning. That needs a big ‘Ol CITATION NEEDED slapped on it.

  111. says

    “People don’t accidentally or inadvertently read books…” In your case, it appears that you haven’t either accidentally or intentionally read many.

    The point is that the syllabus is not an “accidental” encounter. It represents a choice that a student has made to study particular material. If they then want to pick and choose based on their fragile psyches, then they may as well stay home or go to an asylum or rehab. You prefer infantalizing and protecting students, rather than challenging them. If they are not well enough to be in college, perhaps they should go to the hospital. But the university cannot be made into a hospital.

  112. says

    “Your argument has an unstated premise: that people suffering from PTSD benefit from being confronted by problematic images and subjects without prior warning.”

    No, my premise is that the university is not a rehab for PTSD sufferers. The point is not to “benefit” the PTSD sufferer by confronting them with problematic subjects and images. The point is that if the images and subjects are problematic for them, they need psychological help, and not protection from the material.

  113. Vivec says

    Ah, yes, the most infantilizing action possible: giving studentathe information to make an informed decision as to whether or not they want to prioritize their grade or mental health.

  114. says

    Vivec, you may not feel like a cripple, but you’ve been treated like one, apparently. Good luck when the big bad world doesn’t come with trigger warnings.

  115. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    And yet another unstated premise: that people suffering from PTSD will always choose to avoid problematic material.

    Of course, allowing people to prepare themselves to deal with thing they find difficult is “infantisation”. Riiiiight…

  116. says

    If their mental health is so tenuous as to be wrecked by a reading, then perhaps they are not well enough to be in college. They might seek a psychological retreat, rehab or psyche ward. Or stay home and receive intensive therapy.

  117. Vivec says

    Good luck when the big bad world doesn’t come with trigger warnings.

    Sure it does. In terms of media, I can look up almost every work ever made and find content warnings on it.

    In terms of actually encountering something heavy like rape or death, I don’t really encounter that enough for the absence of trigger warnings to be particularly momentuous or noticeable.

  118. Tethys says

    You people need to read some Nietzsche. You are all under a slave morality.

    I think you meant mentality. What does Nietzsche have to do with your complete lack of empathy?

  119. Vivec says

    If their mental health is so tenuous as to be wrecked by a reading, then perhaps they are not well enough to be in college.

    No one said wrecked, but there are topics that make me uncomfortable or ill. If I think I can get by without a major grade hit, I tend to skip or work around readings with that topic.

    Even if they can’t be skipped, content warnings at least give me a chance to brace myself for it.

  120. says

    The simple fact is that the current generation of students have been interpellated as victims, as sufferers, and as objects, not as subjects. Nothing is going to be enough to protect this class of invalids. The real victimization going is precisely that this group are victims of victimology.

  121. says

    “No one said wrecked, but there are topics that make me uncomfortable or ill.”

    By all means, let’s not risk your being uncomfortable! After all, you are the customer and our business is to make you comfortable!

    As for “ill,” if reading material makes you ill, you need psychological help. I’m sorry, but that’s just not my job or problem.

  122. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    If their mental health is so tenuous as to be wrecked by a reading, then perhaps they are not well enough to be in college. They might seek a psychological retreat, rehab or psyche ward. Or stay home and receive intensive therapy.

    What an arrogant asshole, typical of a Randian fuckwitted idjit.
    Freedom of speech is never absolute. For an example of those who don’t give a shit what their bullying means others we need go no further than The Donald.
    Speech always has ramifications. Sometimes, one needs to be able to steel oneself for the bullies. You, Michael, sound like one of the sadistic bullies who hopes to shut people up who are triggered.

  123. Vivec says

    Okay, case in point, I have a hard time with anything involving childhood sexual abuse. Despite there being “no trigger warningsl in the real world, I somehow seem to have a pretty easy time filtering my life to the point where I pretty much never have to involuntarily interact with it.

    one sociology class I took had a week on that topic, pulling from works like Lolita.

    Given that said topic was listed in the syllabus, I had the information necessary to make the informed decision to engage as minimally with the readings as possible.

  124. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    you need psychological help.

    No bully, you need the help, to stop you from being a bully.

  125. Vivec says

    As for “ill,” if reading material makes you ill, you need psychological help. I’m sorry, but that’s just not my job or problem.

    I am receiving such at my own pace, but that’s irrelevant.

    I’m not saying it’s your job to cater to that, just that I think it’s be a good thing when Professors make that information available.

  126. says

    I have plenty of empathy, but the classroom is not a group therapy session. If students need that, then that’s where they should be.

    As for trigger warnings on movies, the point is that the model turns the student into a consumer and the viewer always has “discretion” regarding what is consumed. The college classroom is not equivalent to shopping for movies on Netflicks.

  127. Vivec says

    I also disagree that being ill from a reading necessarily makes you mentally ill. I’ve had to engage with, for example, vivid descriptions of actual botched surgeries. That’s not an unreasonable thing to be ill from.

  128. Vivec says

    How does the student not have discretion? Even without trigger warnings, I could always just walk out of class mid-lecture. There’s no gun to my head forcing me to attend a given lecture.

  129. says

    “No bully, you need the help, to stop you from being a bully.”

    I’m not bullying anyone. That statement is emblematic of the very issue raised in the letter. People like you think that any disagreement with you amounts to “abuse.” That’s the very problem being addressed. If anyone counters your views, you immediately figure yourself as a victim, as being “bullied,” as “abused.” This is exactly the problem in an nutshell. An opposing view is not abuse. It’s merely a challenge, and a challenge is what you’re afraid of.

  130. says

    “Viewer discretion” implies an exemption. And those who argue that a particular reading or film or what have you is triggering them are prone to suggest that they shouldn’t have to account for it, that their lack of engagement with it should not be held against them in the grade. That happens all the time.

  131. says

    First of all, I never gave you permission to call me “Mike.” That is not my name. And you are not going to categorize me as “cis,” as you have no idea what my identity is. So fuck you. I am transgender, asshole.

  132. Vivec says

    That happens all the time.

    Not in any class I’ve taken, but I suppose it’s possible.

    I don’t see why it’s impossible to simultaneously have content warnings and a missed assignment/attendance policy that punishes skipping the work.

    That appears to be the norm where I am.

  133. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    Oh FFS, re #116: if you’re going to be a compassionless asshole, then at least own that shit. Don’t dress it up in faux concern over the “infantilisation” of students.

    But then you can’t really do that can you? You only have an argument if the wellbeing of PTSD suffering students is a concern. Anyone not suffering such will be completely unaffected by trigger warnings. It literally doesn’t matter to those folk. So you have to imply, then for some reason deny, that trigger warnings are bad for the afflicted.

  134. Vivec says

    Not once did I whine about anything, merely expressed my preference in terms of content warnings. You seem to be the one that can’t handle dissenting opinions.

  135. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I’m done with you pathetic whiners.

    NO, you are the pathetic whiner bully. Will you actually show the honesty and integrity to truly FLOUNCE. I know not,based on experience….

  136. chigau (違う) says

    Michael Rectenwald #137

    …And you are not going to categorize me as “cis,” as you have no idea what my identity is. So fuck you. I am transgender, asshole.

    wow
    You came out on website that you despise.

  137. Vivec says

    And thus the retreat from substantive but incorrect points into petty sniping is completed. Truly a wonder of nature, this metamorphosis.

  138. Tethys says

    It is deeply uncomfortable for the blog owner to snark at you personally, but it doesn’t excuse all the abusive name calling and personal attacks that followed. Far from making the world into an infirmary, supporting the students who have come from a less than ideal home or been sexually abused contributes to their mental well-being and helps them to heal from trauma so that they too can get a good education and lead healthy lives. Telling them to suck it up and quit being lazy whiners is actually going to create PTSD.

    It is not their fault that they were traumatized, and the victim blaming is reprehensible.

  139. says

    You wouldn’t recognize a substantive or correct argument if it bit you on the ass. But then again, I guess I better warn you that in a logic class, you would fail. Sorry for the trauma.

    As for “coming out,” I didn’t come out here. I’ve been out. But I don’t need assholes like you to protect me from trauma.

  140. consciousness razor says

    But this notion does not really get at the matter of what is promoted as “safe spaces” in academia today, especially at elite institutions. These are spaces where people can be excluded on the basis of their gender, race, ideological predispositions, or other qualifiers.

    What does it have to do with exclusion on the basis of gender or race? (You don’t specify anything about these other qualifiers, so I can’t specifically ask about them.)

    I have plenty of empathy, but the classroom is not a group therapy session. If students need that, then that’s where they should be.

    What made you decide that they should be confined to group therapy sessions? Why shouldn’t such people be allowed to study in a classroom like anyone else? Why are you allowing this and why are they asking for your permission?

    I don’t know how you got into the business of deciding who or what should/shouldn’t be in classrooms, but do you see that you’re making some judgments (rather fucked up ones) about what an educational environment ought to be like? Is there any general problem with evaluating such things? Or do you think certain specific criteria should be off-limits or should be totally invalid, because they happen to be things you merely don’t appreciate very much?

    You people need to read some Nietzsche. You are all under a slave morality.

    In case anyone thinks they could benefit from being a bit more informed, Nietzsche was kind of an asshole. Also, you don’t actually need to read his useless crap. Just FYI.

    I still don’t get how informing a person about stuff deprives them of their agency in some way. It was never explained how that could possibly be anything in the neighborhood of true. Stupid old me, I had that thought agents sort of needed information about stuff … you know, if they’re actually going to exhibit their agency with regard to said stuff, by performing acts of some sort. Perhaps Michael Rectenwald (or somebody who hasn’t yet flounced) can enlighten all of us crippled, self-victimizing slave moralists. What the fuck is that about?

  141. says

    “It is deeply uncomfortable for the blog owner to snark at you personally….”

    Ah, but this is precisely where you are wrong. I am not afraid of “discomfort.” As for the blog owner, he’s not qualified to wipe my ass. He wouldn’t be admitted as a *student* in my university and I wouldn’t hire him to clean the crumbs from under my desk. He’s nothing, a nobody.

  142. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Once again, another strawman argument. I never said victims were to blame for their trauma. My point is that the university is not (yet) a hospital.

    In other words, you don’t a shit about the victims of your
    “free speech” bullying, and you didn’t stick your flounce, like any liar and bullshitter.
    What is your encore fuckwittery?

  143. says

    @152, consciousness razor

    These are spaces where people can be excluded on the basis of their gender

    What does it have to do with exclusion on the basis of gender […]?

    Bathrooms perhaps? :P

    They are, quote, “spaces where people can be excluded on the basis of their gender”.

  144. Vivec says

    You wouldn’t recognize a substantive or correct argument if it bit you on the ass. But then again, I guess I better warn you that in a logic class, you would fail. Sorry for the trauma.

    I don’t know, I did alright. Granted, it was an intro to symbolic logic class, but I was definitely on the good side of the bell curve.

    Either way, the point you keep harping on – that content warnings imply that a student can skip class without losing points to their grade or incurring a tardiness penalty – is actually contradicted by real life college courses.

  145. Vivec says

    I’m legitimately confused – I’ve never had a college course that didn’t at bare minimum list the readings/videos used in the class in the syllabus, and give a basic synopsis of what the class would cover. How is this anything but a helpful bundle of information?

  146. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I’m legitimately confused – I’ve never had a college course that didn’t at bare minimum list the readings/videos used in the class in the syllabus, and give a basic synopsis of what the class would cover. How is this anything but a helpful bundle of information?

    My syllabi always contained that information. But, since I taught chemistry, not too many students questioned Atomic Theory, unlike PZ and the Theory of Evolution. Any course with graphic materials for a lecture should discuss it prior to the class session. Some students will be OK with the fact that certain materials will be discussed with the warning, others may want to review the material in private. That is their choice. The course material should never be diluted, but how a given student needs to respond to it should be taken into account.

  147. consciousness razor says

    Bathrooms perhaps? :P

    Perhaps? The context was supposedly academia. So, I thought the implication was that (to take an example) straight white men, as such and not because of an individual’s “ideological predispositions,” were being excluded from studying or discussing certain topics in an educational setting. I think I need a citation for that.

    However, as a straight white man myself, I can of course vouch for the widely-accepted fact that we all subscribe to The Orthodox Straight White Male View™, so this is a distinction without a difference. Unfortunately, that’s all out of our control. Sure, we might be powerful ubermenchen and so forth (that’s what it says in the handbook), but being non-terrible and actually having agency/thoughts of our own is simply out of the question. We’re just not built for that.

  148. Paul K says

    Hmmm… I’m not one who usually gets personal online, but Michael’s anger and nastiness really made me curious, so I clicked his name at the top of one of his posts, and it took me to his page at New York University. At the bottom was a link to his ‘political views’. That link leads to a place called Citizens for Legitimate Government, which lists Michael Rectenwald as the ‘Founder/Editorialist’. One of their pages is called 9/11 Oddities. I clicked on that and found that Michael seems to be a 9/11 ‘truther’.

    I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I sure wasn’t expecting that! Further searching shows that the site is also anti-vax. But the worst, I think, is that it’s also a Sandy Hook truther site.

    For a person who shows utter disdain for the thinking of, well, just about everyone but himself, it seems, this is pretty amazing. Or maybe not at all?

  149. Tethys says

    I am bemused by people who claim to be perfectly rational skeptics while having public temper tantrums. Why do they always make random philosophy references and call everyone names rather than supporting their argument?

    It’s not coddling people to be aware that some subject matter might present it’s own challenges just to absorb, and give them a heads up to prepare without singling them out as somehow abnormal. Revulsion, vomiting, and crying are normal human emotional reactions to the results of human violence even if you do not have PTSD. Child abuse case studies, and some of the horrible medical experiments carried out on powerless people throughout history is my choice for most horrible thing I was required to learn about, and they were routinely prefaced by content warnings way back in the 80’s.

  150. tkreacher says

    I’m going to be honest here – it sure seems to me this Michael Rectenwald character is a giant asshole who isn’t nearly as intelligent as they consider themselves to be.

    They have, in quick succession and exponentially with each consecutive post, set off all kinds of alarm bells in my head related to Dunning-Kruger, empathetic deficiency, and general “I would hate this person in real life” sectors.

  151. Crimson Clupeidae says

    Would the good (sic) dean be willing to host my latest speech? The working title is: Would the University of Chicago be better served by lynching the dean on the student mall?

    Free speech and all that….

  152. emergence says

    The irritating thing about this Mike guy is that he seems to think that people who have gone through serious trauma are supposed to just magically get over all of their issues before ever enrolling in college. You can’t just snap out of PTSD or rape trauma, and it’s unrealistic to expect people to do so before they’re able to take college courses on difficult material. One the one hand, college professors could just give the students a heads up so they can mentally prepare for the material. On the other, students with severe emotional trauma are expected to put their education on hold and spend an unspecified amount of time “getting over” their trauma before they can continue their studies. Asking someone to do something that requires a great amount of effort so that you can avoid having to do something trivial doesn’t seem all that rational or empathetic to me.

  153. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Looks like U of Chicago may be taking Freedom of Speech only in one way.

    Disruption of a local prosecutor’s speech at the University of Chicago by hecklers unhappy with her handling of a police shooting may have been the last straw for administrators at one of the country’s most prestigious schools.

    After years of tolerating dissenters who shouted down unpopular speakers on campus, the school is now considering a policy of meting out suspensions, expulsions or other punishment for those it sees as violating free speech rights.

    “I think the university is now signaling that we mean business here,” said Jerry Coyne, an ecology and evolution professor and an outspoken critic of dissident students who he says are acting “entitled.”

    “What they’re basically saying is, ‘We have the right to harass anybody we don’t like,'” Coyne, who is not a member of the faculty committee, said about the disrupters.

    University rules already bar interfering with campus activities, but faculty and students said they could not recall them ever being enforced.

    The panel is seeking ways to streamline a “cumbersome” student disciplinary system that dates back to the era of Vietnam War protests, according to a memo sent to faculty in June. The aim is to protect “freedom of expression, inquiry and debate” from interference, the memo says.

    The proposal is the latest volley in a battle on U.S. university campuses over what constitutes free speech in an academic environment.

    When does a student have a right to heckle and shout down someone with an offensive point of view? Should a school cancel a speech that generates too much controversy? Does a student have a right to be warned before attending an academic lecture that may prove upsetting?

    Sounds like Coyne is acting entitled.