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The American University’s New Assault on Free Speech

Monday May 2016


Jonathan Haidt Professor, NYU Stern

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” Voltaire is said to have remarked. These days, such liberal sentiment would find few friends in America’s universities, as they increasingly seek to banish words, ideas, and subjects that might cause offense. “Trigger warnings,” “safe spaces,” and “microaggressions” have risen from obscurity into common parlance. At the University of California, examples of the latter include offensive statements such as “America is the land of opportunity” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”

Harvard law students now lobby their law professors not to teach rape law—or even use the word “violate” (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. A Northwestern University professor was nearly ousted by furious students after penning an essay critical of the school’s sexual-assault policies. Chris Rock and other popular comedians no longer dare to perform on college campuses for fear of stoking controversy.

This new wave of attacks on free speech and academic freedom represent more than political correctness on steroids, says Jonathan Haidt, Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business. It is a movement that infantilizes young American adults and seeks punishment for anyone who interferes with that aim. Please join professor Haidt for an MI luncheon lecture on the descent of U.S. higher education into Orwellian farce and its chilling implications for liberty—in academia and beyond.

Jonathan Haidt taught at the University of Virginia from 1995 to 2011. In 2012, he released his second book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, a New York Times bestseller, and was named to Foreign Policy magazine’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers” list. Haidt holds a B.A. from Yale University and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.