For the past several years, American universities have been buzzing with protests and counter-protests, charges and counter-charges. These have centered on a rather small cluster of concepts: safe spaces, the campus as home, microaggressions, and trigger warnings. As I write these words, the fighting seems to have subsided, though I suspect only for a season, as the combatants assess their positions. Perhaps, then, this is a good time to perform our own assessments: to explore the moral network within which these concepts operate, to see what consequences their deployment has had, and to suggest what might be required to restore to campus intellectual life some of the energy that has been sapped by this controversy.
For, whomever or whatever you might blame for the current state of affairs, the recent hostilities have been distinctly unfriendly to the creating and sustaining of intellectual energy. Universities need to get beyond these disputes, at least to some degree, if they are going to retain any meaningful chance to fulfill their social missions.
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