Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at NYU and co-author, with Greg Lukianoff, of a blockbuster Atlantic essay on coddled campus culture, gave a fascinating interview to First Things magazine on November 4—before controversies at the University of Missouri, Yale, and Amherst put campus PC back in the spotlight in a big way. The interview was posted yesterday, and is worth reading in full. His speculation about the potential consequences of campus PC is especially interesting:
I think emotions are going to lead a drive back to rationality. What I mean by that is when you talk to a professor who has been brought up on charges or attacked verbally for saying something innocent—they’re angry. Like a friend of mine, who teaches at a small liberal arts college and once referred to someone “going over to the dark side.” He was called a racist, and warned that such insensitivity would not be tolerated.
Like all far-left political movements, the new PC has shown a tendency to devour its own. That is, PC crusaders often save their most vindictive attacks for people who were formerly leftists in good standing. The response so far from professors and administrators who come under attack has generally been to fold, apologize, and try to make amends. But history shows that this kind of process can’t go on forever; there must be an endpoint somewhere down the line. PC activists probably imagine the endpoint to be a harmonious world ridded of triggers and unsafe spaces. But this, like Marx’s notion of a dictatorship of a stateless society, is an ideological fantasy. More likely, PC will collapse under the weight of its own excesses. Haidt doesn’t expect this to happen anytime soon, though:
It’s going to get much, much worse over the next couple years and at that point some universities may start changing policies. By that point, many or maybe most American parents won’t want to send their children to the top universities, and there will be an enormous market opportunity for second-level universities that offer a much less coddled campus culture.
We’ve said before that there are two campus crises—a crisis of political culture, and a crisis of affordability. These crises could converge if high-profile PC incidents make the American public question whether the existing college economic model, complete with its massive diversity bureaucracy, is actually worth it. However, we are less optimistic than Haidt that the upper-middle class parents who send their children to elite schools will be swayed substantially by stories of campus coddling run amok. If PC does generate a backlash that forces the universities to change their ways, it is more likely to come from state governments, which have historically not responded kindly to extreme campus movements. The American people as a whole stand behind their Bill of Rights, even if college students don’t.