Paul L. Caron

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Chicago Law Faculty Do Not Join Letter Defending Trigger Warnings And Safe Spaces

Chicago (2016)Wall Street Journal Law Blog, University of Chicago Law School Shouldn’t Be a ‘Safe Space,’ Say Professors:

At the center of the debate roiling higher education over “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” is the University of Chicago. Its administration recently drew national attention by suggesting that campus efforts to accommodate sensitive students and insulate them from potentially upsetting ideas pose a threat to free thought.

A sizable segment of Chicago’s faculty have now entered the fray, attaching their name to a public letter addressed to entering students that takes issue with the university’s firm stand and defends trigger warnings and safe spaces as legitimate checks against intimidation and emotional trauma.

More than 150 professors joined the letter. But it’s interesting to note which names were absent: as of Wednesday, not a single law professors had signed it.

The letter wasn’t widely circulated around the law school, according to law professors. But they say the faculty rejoinder has generated little enthusiasm among them.

“I’d be surprised if anyone would sign on to this,” Chicago law professor Brian Leiter, a professor of jurisprudence and legal philosophy, said of the Chicago faculty statement. “You can’t get a legal education without studying the most unpleasant aspects of human existence: murder, rape, treachery, betrayal, dishonesty,” he said. At Chicago, “all views get to be heard as long as you can argue for them,” he said. “It’s the essence of the institution. if certain ideas offend, tough noogies,” he said, adding that his law school values civility. ...

[Tax Prof] Daniel Hemel, a former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan and one of the law school’s youngest faculty members, raised similar concerns. “The proliferation of safe spaces and the expansion of the set of prohibited viewpoints pose a threat to the free exchange of ideas on college campuses,” he wrote in a short essay.

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I will personally donate to Univ of Chicago if they fire every professor that signed that letter

Posted by: Steve | Sep 16, 2016 10:46:05 AM


I was earning my degree a little over 15 years ago, before 9/11, back during the Clinton years, before the Left had big drums to beat, and they were trying to keep people they didn't like from speaking on campus.

It's gotten tangibly worse, to be sure, but you're right. These things never come out of nowhere suddenly. They just get more media attention.

Posted by: MM | Sep 15, 2016 7:08:09 PM

"When I was majoring in engineering, we called such majors ‘Mickey Mouse’.”’

Ah, yes, yet more over-compensating intellectual machismo from STEM majors at the expense of straw man caricatures of Humanities majors. And with such cleverness and originality, too! One difference between Humanities majors and STEM majors of the Perry ilk is that the former would know better than to make ignorant generalizations such as the one Perry makes.

As for "academic rigor”, I am sure that Perry can read and translate wide swathes of Chaucer without crib notes, or, sans Google, expatiate on the themes of "Samson Agonistes", while also explaining the subjunctive, and all this while balancing on one leg and solving problems in differential calculus at the same time. I, a poor former English major, bow humbly before Perry’s intellectual superiority.

Posted by: Rob T. | Sep 15, 2016 4:04:20 PM

I'm UC Class of '63. I am appalled by "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings". I hope the Administration can hold firm against these 150 misguided Professors

Posted by: David in Cal | Sep 15, 2016 7:44:16 AM

If you suspected the faculty would divide departmentally, you'd be right. From that WSJ article, here are the ones who tilted heavily toward trigger warnings and safe spaces:

"The departments of anthropology, English, comparative literature, history, cinema and media studies, and its social work school were most heavily represented in the Chicago faculty letter..."

in other words, these were 'usual suspects' when it comes political correctness and a lack of academic rigor. When I was majoring in engineering, we called such majors "Mickey Mouse."

Posted by: Michael W. Perry | Sep 15, 2016 7:41:35 AM

“viewpoints pose a threat to the free exchange of ideas on college campuses.” Liberals call this, "The desired result."

But here's the thing: This is nothing new. Political Correctness was alive and well in the 1980's when I was on campus earning my degree. That was 30 years ago. Since that time, the snowflakes became parents raising snowflakes of their own; they became our local leaders, school teachers and small business owners pushing P.C. down our collective throats. Fast forward to today and they're the President of the United States. They're our captains of industry, deans at the university, leaders in technology, and authorities in government. And witness the result: Industry leaving the country. Technology becoming more intrusive every day. And do I even need to discuss our Government's abuse of authority in light of the IRS used as a cudgel against the Tea Party in 2012?

I appreciate the article and the minority of professors who make up the law school who still retain their sensibilities. But the horses have long-since run out of the barn. The unasked question is, "What are we going to do about it?" Or perhaps more to the point: "Is there anything we can do about it?"

Posted by: Darth Chipmunk | Sep 15, 2016 7:18:33 AM

As there are no 'safe spaces' in the adult world, how is higher education preparing students for the real world by constructing an artificial one?

Posted by: Connie Frist | Sep 15, 2016 6:57:14 AM

Reassuring to hear that Chicago Law faculty do not agree with their non-law faculty, who apparently think they are kindergarten teachers and not college professors.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Sep 15, 2016 4:29:47 AM