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Speech codes are great because students are brain-impaired idiots, law prof says

Give credit to University of Chicago Law School Professor Eric Posner: We know exactly what he thinks about the caliber of today’s students.

The son of famed appeals court judge Richard Posner wrote a love letter in Slate to speech codes, authoritarian professors and telling students to shut up about their damn opinions, which boils down to “college students are children”:

Not in terms of age, but in terms of maturity. Even in college, they must be protected like children while being prepared to be adults.

There is a popular, romantic notion that students receive their university education through free and open debate about the issues of the day. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Students who enter college know hardly anything at all—that’s why they need an education. Classroom teachers know students won’t learn anything if they blab on about their opinions. Teachers are dictators who carefully control what students say to one another.

This justifies the Marquette University imbroglio that started with graduate teaching instructor Cheryl Abbate provoking a student by saying everyone agrees with gay marriage, and then telling him because he doesn’t, he can’t say so in class, Posner says, conveniently leaving out Abbate’s role in the mess:

While I believe that the teacher mishandled the student’s complaint, she was justified in dismissing it. The purpose of the class was to teach Rawls’ theory of justice, not to debate the merits of same-sex marriage. The fact that a student injected same-sex marriage into the discussion does not mean that the class was required to discuss it.

Because discussing Rawls’ theory in relation to one of the most timely and weighty issues of the day is like letting students “launch into anti-Semitic diatribes in a class about the Holocaust.”

Seriously, Poz? Have you been “learning” from a nearby Confucius Institute about how to instruct the kids?

It’s hard to believe, but Posner actually tells students to leave campus if they want to have debates – “to the town square, for example”:

The campus is an extension of the classroom, and so while the restrictions in the classroom are enforced less vigorously, the underlying pedagogical objective of avoiding intimidation remains intact.

I don’t disagree with Posner that students themselves probably want speech codes and (to a lesser extent) sex codes, so it’s plausible that universities – populated by administrators and professors who, under Posner’s approval, otherwise tell students to shut up and drink the Kool-Aid – are “simply catering to demand in the marketplace for education.”

And he’s right that “brain development continues well into a person’s 20s,” which explains why some students “suffer from impulse control” or “fail to say no to a sexual encounter they do not want,” or tend to “undermine their own arguments by being needlessly offensive.”

And certainly he’s not the first to complain that “overprogrammed children engineered to the specifications of college admissions offices no longer experience the risks and challenges that breed maturity.”

But this is just loony:

Conservatives should rejoice that moral instruction and social control have been reintroduced to the universities after a 40-year drought.

Posner seems to be approving of a bizarre hybrid morality that reimagines in loco parentis under the rubric of a “Sex Ed Warrior Queen” – exhorting students with religious fervor to bugger their brains out, as long as they know exactly how each other is thinking and feeling at every stage through coitus and months of Facebook messaging thereafter.

Rather than help students understand each other’s different perspectives and teach them to win arguments by persuasion, not temper tantrums and coercion, Posner seems to advocate that universities put them in metaphorical bumper cars, so they can’t hurt each other too much – saying things that lay bare deep-seated disagreements.

It’s not clear when he thinks students are going to grow up if they keep getting coddled in college, but perhaps that’s his point: Coddling isn’t so bad.

Read the Slate article.

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg Piper served as associate editor of The College Fix from 2014 to 2021.