Letter to the Editor: Will NU dump PC paranoia?

This letter to the editor responds to a previous Daily report, “Schapiro publishes article on campus protests amid controversy over UChicago letter.”

How nice of Morty to express his views to the Los Angeles Times while not speaking directly to NU students. But perhaps he will do that shortly. In his op-ed piece, co-written by Lewis and Clark University President Barry Glassner, Morty disagrees with a letter recently sent by University of Chicago’s Dean of Students Jay Ellison, telling incoming freshmen: “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.”

The New York Daily News, in a recent editorial, wrote: “In other words, welcome to the real world, kids.” But President Schapiro wants NU students treated as coddled millennials sheltered from reality by politically-correct cocoons. In his op-ed piece, he says safe spaces, trigger warnings and other PC barriers are necessary to build a diverse campus. To rephrase poet Robert Browning: “How do I dispute thee. Let me count the ways.”

Calling “safe spaces” a vital road to diversity is like saying that arsonists prevent fires. Safe spaces for racial, ethnic and religious groups are a throwback to the segregationist era doctrine of separate-but-equal facilities that civil rights activists opposed in the 1950s and 60s. To be fair, NU’s white students have enjoyed a safe space for decades — the Greek System — which is 70 percent white despite a total student population that’s 55 percent white. But why extend this separatism to other groups? Safe spaces don’t meet NU’s stated goal of inclusion. They exclude, not include. End them, don’t extend them.

Morty also cited students of different backgrounds living together. He said a hedge fund manager’s daughter may share space with a migrant worker’s daughter. Not likely at Northwestern. It’s the Epi-Pen price point of higher education, despite NU’s “need-blind” admission policy that Morty often mentions. But he told the New York Times in 2014 that “need-blind” is a “hollow promise” which often misleads low income students about their financial aid.

Next comes Morty’s claim that Asian-American students “endured insults and snubs based on jealousy, stereotypes or outright hatred.” What about affirmative action admission policies that Asian-American students claim discriminate against them? They protested outside the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments over “Fisher vs. U. of. Texas,” a decision upholding an admissions policy that views race as a factor for college entry. NU earlier filed a Friend Of The Court brief backing this policy. Does that offend Asian students?

Finally, let’s look at what Morty didn’t mention, but the Chicago Tribune did when it reported on the University of Chicago’s new warning. Citing student protests at other schools, the Tribune recalled NU’s treatment of Prof. Laura Kipnis over her 2015 essay on how colleges police faculty-student relations. After two students complained about its “chilling effect” on those reporting sexual misconduct, Prof. Kipnis was questioned and cleared by NU lawyers. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) used this as support for naming NU “one of the 10 worst universities for freedom of expression.”

My generation of students was far from perfect. But we were polite and willing to hear new ideas and opinions that we didn’t agree with. We never disinvited or disrupted guest speakers, broke up official ceremonies, walked out of a president’s dinner or occupied buildings. I don’t recall any NU professors grilled by lawyers for articles published in academic journals.

One of NU’s most famous alums — film legend Charlton Heston (‘43) — told Harvard Law School students and faculty in 1999: “Political correctness is tyranny with manners.” Heston was half-right. Manners are gone, but tyranny remains.

Dick Reif, Medill ’64