Swinging from the other side, not the center.

In the minds of many, free speech, the rights of the accused, and many other important societal values are under attack on college campuses. And, somewhat paradoxically, that attack is coming from the left.

In various instances, student groups have vehemently protested the presence (not merely the ideology) of prominent figures invited to guest lecture, because of certain conservative statements those politicians have made. University disciplinary policies with respect to sexual assault have been, in some cases, dispensing with protections for accused parties that left-leaning students would ordinarily support. And there have been efforts to expunge “triggering” texts, films, and discussions from the classroom (in one instance, a law professor was asked to stop using the term “violate” in the classroom, as in, “does that conduct violate the law?”).

Most agree that, at the very least, we should use caution before inviting a flagrantly racist or violent speaker to campus, or that universities should be more aggressive in prosecuting sexual assault, or that teachers should seek to be sensitive to the various traumas that their students may have experienced. But, as movements like these gain more and more traction, there have been cries from conservatives (and many liberals) that “the pendulum has swung too far!”

It’s plausible that these pendulum people are “right” in some abstract sense. Maybe students should be expected to read literature, see films, and discuss events that might be triggering, despite their personal histories. Maybe universities have gone too far in eschewing the rights of the accused, in their well meaning attempts to protect students. And perhaps we should be more concerned about the risk that our universities are becoming echo chambers of boring center-left ideology. I have personal opinions on each of these issues (some one way, some the other) but recognize, at a minimum, that these issues are open to debate. What I hope to do here is not to resolve these issues, but rather to comment on the way they are sometimes debated.

The point I want to make is that whether or not the “pendulum” has swung too far can only be fairly considered with strong cognizence of the place where the pendulum started.

It is simply not the case that victims of sexual assault have enjoyed decades of having their claims taken perfectly seriously and are now asking for some kind of extra, unneccessary mile. Rather, they and their allies are reacting to a novel reality in which finally their claims are sometimes given a bit of credence, and learning how to navigate and operate within this brave new world.

Nor has it been true that universities have always taken care before inviting (or even hiring!) prominent societal figures who posit objectionable views which may quite reasonably make certain members of campus communities feel uncomfortable. It is not surprising that decades of being told to “man-up” in response to the presentation of offensive content has lead to perhaps an overreach in policing speech on campus. The same can be said about professors considering that the content they teach might be more upsetting to some students than others.

My position is this: Progressive social ideology is growing more prevalent in society, and that is good. There will be growing pains. Advocates will sometimes ask for, and get, too much. The proverbial pendulum will probably swing too far, and those over-shots should be corrected. I am not claiming that the collateral damage they create is somehow acceptable. But they should be corrected and addressed in light of the fact that the alternative is not perfect equilibrium. In almost every case, the most recent alternative has been the pendulum stagnating on the wrong side of spectrum, where the “collateral damage” created is far worse.

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