April 13, 2015

Colleges or Nursery Schools?

University of Michigan proves free and open exchange of competing ideas is a cruel hoax.

The University of Michigan is the latest American campus determined to prove that the central premise of higher education — the free and open exchange of competing ideas — is a cruel hoax. Last Tuesday, in a spasm of oh-so familiar political correctness, UM initially canceled a scheduled showing of “American Sniper” after 300 students and others whined about the “negative and misleading stereotypes” of Muslims portrayed in the film. As pathetic as that outburst was, the Center for Campus Involvement (CCI) that oversees student activities managed to top it, saying, “While our intent was to show a film, the impact of the content was harmful, and made students feel unsafe and unwelcome at our program.”

But wait, it actually got even more absurd. Following the accommodated temper tantrum, the CCI decided to show a film whose content was tailor-made for the legions of thumb-suckers pretending to be college students: “Paddington,” a child-oriented, PG-rated movie about a talking bear’s adventures in London.


The online memo circulated to stop the showing of a patriotic movie that grossed $540 million worldwide contains the predictable anti-American sentiment that animates its signers, including students, some staff, the Muslim Brotherhood-founded Muslim Students’ Association and the president of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, a Palestinian solidarity group. “Chris Kyle was a racist who took a disturbing stance on murdering Iraqi civilians,” the collective letter stated. “Middle Eastern characters in the film are not lent an ounce of humanity and watching this movie is provocative and unsafe to MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) and Muslim students who are too often reminded of how little the media and world values their lives. … The University of Michigan should not participate in further perpetuating these negative and misleading stereotypes.”

Not all students were on board with the idea that censorship should triumph over the “right” not to be offended. “It would be nice to see the university … take a stand against outrageous claims of ‘student exclusion,’” a UM sophomore said. “The film ‘American Sniper’ in no way creates student exclusion any more than ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ Both show American soldiers at war, the atrocities of war, and the costs of war, yet I’m sure ‘Saving Private Ryan’ would not illicit the same response.”

He got his wish. A day after canceling, the University abruptly switched gears and decided to show “American Sniper” at its regularly scheduled place and time. E. Royster Harper, UM’s vice president for student life, insisted the cancellation was a “mistake” and “not consistent with the high value the University of Michigan places on freedom of expression and our respect for the right of students to make their own choices in such matters.” Yet she remained appreciative of the concern that “some students are uncomfortable with the content of the movie” and promised that “Paddington” would be available for viewing at another campus location.

Why the change of heart? One reason might be a tweet by new Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh stating, “Michigan Football will watch ‘American Sniper’! Proud of Chris Kyle & Proud to be an American & if that offends anybody then so be it!”

Another might be the reality that a major university has been exposed as a de facto cocoon of intellectual “safety,” which might not be the most attractive calling card for future students. There was also a competing petition created by a third-year law student that garnered more signatures in support of “American Sniper” than the one demanding it not be screened.

But the bet here is that the most compelling reason for the change would likely be an outpouring of disgust from UM alumni who aren’t thrilled with their alma mater being subjected to national ridicule — disgust that might cause a decrease in endowments by those same alumni.

Meanwhile, Muslim student Omar Mahmood satirized this hypersensitivity in The Michigan Daily, UM’s liberal campus newspaper. In a column entitled “Do the Left Thing,” Mahmood portrays himself as a left-handed student offended by “patriarchy” of right “handydnyss” and the resulting “microagressions” directed at him. After it was published, the paper ordered Mahmood to apologize to an offended staffer who felt “threatened” by him. He refused and was fired. Mahmood’s apartment was vandalized shortly thereafter, and papers with statements such as, “You scum embarrass us,” “you self-righteous d—,” “you have no soul,” and “everyone hates you you violent prick,” were left by his door. A printout of his column was also left behind with the words “Shut the f— up” on it.

This is the current state of affairs at UM and countless other colleges across the nation. No doubt it’s only a matter of time before “Paddington” needs a trigger warning as well. That’s what happens when America’s colleges become nursery schools. And it’s hard to decide who’s worse: the legions of hypersensitive, infantilized students who lurch from one self-inflicted “trauma” to another, or the cowardly and collaborative administrators and faculty who abet them.

This article has been revised.

> Update: Via Campus Reform, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has also postponed a showing of “American Sniper” due to complaints from Muslim students.

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