Following the forced resignations of the President and Provost of the University of Missouri, demonstrations against campus administrators has spread across the country. Students — many of whom are Black, gay, transgender and Muslim — claim that they feel “unsafe” as the result of what they call “white privilege” or sometimes simply privilege. “Check your privilege” has become the put-down du jour. Students insist on being protected by campus administrators from “micro-aggressions,” meaning unintended statements inside and outside the classroom that demonstrate subtle insensitivities towards minority students. They insist on being safe from hostile or politically incorrect ideas. They demand “trigger warnings” before sensitive issues are discussed or assigned. They want to own the narrative and keep other points of view from upsetting them or making them feel unsafe.
These current manifestations of a widespread culture of victimization and grievance are only the most recent iterations of a dangerous long-term trend on campuses both in the United States and in Europe. The ultimate victims are freedom of expression, academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. Many faculty members, administrators and students are fearful of the consequences if they express politically incorrect or dissident views that may upset some students. So they engage in self-censorship. They have seen what had happened to those who have expressed unpopular views, and it is not a pretty picture.