I seem to have more time for Rex Murphy than do most CA writers and commenters. I don’t always agree with the man, but I appreciate his acerbic writing and his crusty, canny sensibilities. Even when his columns strike me as misguided and badly argued, they’re entertaining and contain points I can at least vaguely sympathize with.
Murphy has just knocked it out of the park, however, with a piece on the ridiculous shenanigans currently taking place on American university campuses, particularly Yale and the University of Missouri. His opening paragraph is too good not to quote in full:
The most recent reports say there is a crisis in child services in the United States. The cost of daycare spaces has reached absolutely astronomic levels. Placement at the University of Missouri, for example, easily breaks the $40,000 threshold. And if your toddler is lucky enough to squeeze into Yale, which has some of the most craven caregivers, the most swaddled cocoons and safe spaces on the continent, it will set you back a minimum $60,000. But hey, if you want the very best day care for the intellectually infantile at any of the top Institutes of Higher Whining, that’s why God gave you noses — so you could pay through them.
As an atheist, I prefer to think that the nose is an evolutionary adaptation for detecting the unmistakable stench of an ivory tower gone bad, but perhaps Murphy and I can agree to disagree on that point. We do seem to share a conviction that the politically correct attitudes and extreme sensitivity of some American undergraduates (a small but vocal minority, one likes to think – the American students I’ve personally interacted with have been almost uniformly terrific) are undermining the whole idea of universities as venues for the free and fruitful exchange of ideas. It’s not, of course, entirely or even mostly the students’ fault: they’ll have been trained in a version of that mindset, if not actually browbeaten into it, by teachers, the media, and perhaps even their own bien pensant parents. Perhaps the problem could be solved by making admission to an undergraduate program contingent on completing a period of insensitivity training: a couple of weeks of being yelled at, lightly smacked around and generally treated like pond scum by instructors borrowed from, say, the marine corps. Having experienced that kind of treatment and discovered that it doesn’t really damage a person, even the most previously delicate prospective students might be prepared to confront the typically far milder slings and arrows of university and post-university life with a greater sense of perspective. Of course I’m joking, or at least half-joking, but from the sound of things American educators really do need to find some new approach that will curb the worst and most disruptive excesses of student activism while allowing plenty of room for the robust and even antagonistic expression of all viewpoints – including, to be sure, politically correct ones.
In Canada some parallel tendencies undoubtedly exist, but the cancer appears less advanced and therefore more readily curable. The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), a Calgary non-profit, recently released its 2015 Campus Freedom Index, “a report measuring the state of free speech at 55 Canadian public universities”. I’ll have more to say – not all of it strictly complimentary – about both the JCCF and the Campus Freedom Index itself once I’ve had a chance to go through the thing properly, but it does seem that the flare-ups of politically correct illiberalism that have been taking place on Canadian campuses are rather minor. Our universities remain primarily focussed on the important business of teaching, learning and intellectual exploration, and we ought to be both proud and grateful that that’s the case.