If events at Augsburg in the Twin Cities don’t trouble you, you have not thought enough about implications of shutting down free speech, especially in classrooms. If you cannot discuss an essay by James Baldwin without students who secretly record your words having you kicked off the faculty, we have reached the end of free thought.
Students, colleagues, and administrators recognized Professor Philip Adamo, chair of the honors program at Augsburg, as one of the best teachers on campus. The Carnegie Foundation recognized him as one of the best in the state, and nation. Yet when students complained to Provost Karen Kaivola that Professor Adamo made them feel unsafe, the provost said to Adamo, in effect, “You’re done here.”
Augsburg has an anonymous bias reporting system, so students can make their own college into a Kafkaesque hell-hole with a few clicks.
She should have dismissed the students’ complaint, with prejudice. She could not do that, because students can register their unhappiness online. Augsburg has an anonymous bias reporting system, so students can make their own college into a Kafkaesque hell-hole with a few clicks. Students ought complain about anything they like, including food in the dining hall. When they accuse a professor of using the forbidden word in class, they want the professor’s head.
Such accusations about speech in the classroom violate the school’s norms and ideals. The provost should say, “Where to you get off? Well, get off here, because we do not welcome your self-righteous agitation on our campus. Send me your apology for the damage you have done to Professor Adamo’s reputation, by close of business.” Augsburg’s president Paul Pribbenow should back her up.
Students who claim to fight for inclusion look for every excuse they can to exclude people who make them feel uncomfortable! If you cannot tolerate discomfort, you cannot tolerate anything.
Free speech is free thought. Free thought requires free speech, and everything we associate with free speech. If we have to hide our responses to James Baldwin’s ideas – or anyone else’s ideas – because we fear consequences of openness, we have lost one of our most valuable gifts in our life together. God made us for connection, not exclusion. Connection means we can talk about a great essayist like James Baldwin without fear.
Note the most galling quality about students’ agitation to fire professors who run afoul of campus thought control. Students who claim to fight for inclusion look for every excuse they can to exclude people who make them feel uncomfortable! Baldwin wanted to make people feel uncomfortable. If you cannot tolerate discomfort, you cannot tolerate anything.
To shut down free speech makes everything else about our life together worthless. To ostracize a person who violates your own sense of propriety makes everyone feel threatened. We cannot connect with each other when we have lost freedom of thought or speech. We are lonely, isolated, and at loose ends – as sociologists like to say, atomized. This condition of disconnection, enforced upon us by people who want to dominate and control, removes hope and eats our souls, until it kills every individual. Do not let it happen.