Obama Takes a Surprising Stand

Ashley Thorne

FIRE is drawing attention to a transcript from President Obama’s town hall meeting in Iowa yesterday, in which the president says students need to be open-minded, refrain from shutting down points of view with which they disagree, and not seek to avoid views they find offensive. President Obama used the word “coddled,” which suggests he has read Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s viral Atlantic article “The Coddling of the American Mind.” 

The president said that colleges need “to create a space where a lot of ideas are presented and collide and people are having arguments and people are testing each other’s theories, and over time people learn from each other because they’re getting out of their own narrow point of view and having a broader point of view.” He went on to say: 

I’ve heard some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who, you know, is too conservative. Or, they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African Americans, or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. And, you know, I gotta tell you that I don’t agree with that either. I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. 

This strikes me two ways — first as a feint. It seems improbable that Obama really believes some of this, especially when he says students should be permitted to avoid trigger-warning-worthy books.  His own language (“a demeaning signal toward women”) betrays sympathy with the trigger warning advocates. Obama’s statement that, perhaps “sometimes,” the “problem” lies not just with “folks who are mad that colleges are too liberal” but also with the liberals who “sometimes aren’t listening to the other side,​” rings hollow coming from a president whose administration has consistently resisted listening to the other side.  

Still, it’s the first time I’ve heard Obama stand up for disinvited speakers or against such things as trigger warnings since he has held office. So his statements also strike me as a milestone. Obama is right that people with a “narrow” point of view can benefit from speaking with others with whom they disagree. His call for “testing” of theories, willingness to change our minds, and, essentially, a marketplace of ideas is a needed one. Perhaps the current popularity of arguments for freedom of inquiry by Lukianoff, Haidt, and others have left Obama with a sense of liability, and he wants to cast his lot with the side that is increasingly winning the moral high ground. In any case, I commend the president for defending intellectual freedom and diversity and call on his administration to back up these words with actions.

 

This article orginally appeared in Phi Beta Cons on September 15, 2015.

  • Share

Most Commented

July 15, 2022

1.

New: Association of American Medical Colleges Releases Official DEI Curriculum Standards

The Association of American Medical Colleges' new DEI competencies will hamper free expression, politicize medical education, and encourage physicians to engage in misbegotten activ......

June 13, 2022

2.

Regime Change: Repelling the DEI Assault on Higher Education

The last few decades have seen a total transformation of higher education's mission in American society. What was once an institution that encouraged innovation, built character, and sou......

July 25, 2022

3.

Against Transgenderism

The ideology of transgenderism strives to slam shut any door that offers opposition to its attempts to acquire power and control. This statement explains our opposition to such an ideology i......

Most Read

July 15, 2022

1.

New: Association of American Medical Colleges Releases Official DEI Curriculum Standards

The Association of American Medical Colleges' new DEI competencies will hamper free expression, politicize medical education, and encourage physicians to engage in misbegotten activ......

May 15, 2015

2.

Where Did We Get the Idea That Only White People Can Be Racist?

A look at the double standard that has arisen regarding racism, illustrated recently by the reaction to a black professor's biased comments on Twitter....

July 25, 2022

3.

Against Transgenderism

The ideology of transgenderism strives to slam shut any door that offers opposition to its attempts to acquire power and control. This statement explains our opposition to such an ideology i......