Kerfuffle at UArts

Some students at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia want Camile Paglia fired. Conor Friedersdorf recounts and analyzes:

Any student, regardless of ideology or personal identity, risks discomfort attending a Paglia lecture, given the pedagogical approach she has described:

The idea that self-esteem’ should be the purpose of education: this is social-welfare propaganda. Development of our intellect and of our abilities has to be the focus … You build identity. Maybe identity comes through conflict. For example, my struggles with gender, my struggles with sexual orientation, my anguish over so many decades produced my work … Sometimes conflict is creative …

If there’s no pressure on you, there’s no pressure to create.

So we have got to stop this idea that we must make life easy” for people in school … No. Maybe the world is harsh and cruel, and maybe the world of intellect is challenging and confrontational and uncomfortable. Maybe we have to deal with people who hate us, directly, face-to-face. That’s important. You develop your sense of identity by dealing with the things which would obliterate your identity. It does not help you to develop your identity by putting a cushion between yourself and the hateful reality that’s out there.

[The argument that] a speaker is responsible for harms that are theoretical, indirect, and so diffuse as to encompass actions of strangers who put themselves on the same side of a controversy … is untenable. Suppressing speech because it might indirectly cause danger depending on how people other than the speaker may react is an authoritarian move. And this approach to speech, applied consistently, would of course impede the actions of the anti-Paglia protesters as well.

After all, Paglia identifies as transgender, making her a member of the group at heightened risk of suicide. She was subjected to angry chants from perhaps 200 students, including two cis-gender students who shouted curse words at her, not to mention an ongoing effort to take away her livelihood and force her from her longtime community. Social media protests and the Change.org petition led to vitriol and threats, as in any major culture-war controversy. So treated, many people would suffer more psychological distress than if they saw a YouTube clip, however odious, that didn’t target them personally.

I heartily recommend the article, which describes not only the precious snowflakes, but professors too scared to speak on the record and a college President who showed courage that’s far too uncommon these days.

May 1, 2019


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