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campus culture wars
POTUS v. PC, Part Three

In an interview with NPR yesterday, President Obama—for the third time this year—criticized the intolerance exhibited by some leftwing activists at college campuses across the country:

I think it’s a healthy thing for young people to be engaged and to question authority and to ask why this instead of that, to ask tough questions about social justice. So I don’t want to discourage kids from doing that.

As I’ve said before, I do think that there have been times on college campuses where I get concerned that the unwillingness to hear other points of view can be as unhealthy on the left as on the right. […]

There have been times where you start seeing on college campuses students protesting somebody like the director of the IMF or Condi Rice speaking on a campus because they don’t like what they stand for. Well, feel free to disagree with somebody, but don’t try to just shut them up.

We are always happy to see the President stand up for free inquiry and open debate. America’s strength doesn’t just flow from the power of its navy or the size of its economy. It also derives from our country’s ability to sustain liberal norms in our major institutions. As such, campus intolerance is rightly an area of concern for the President, and it’s heartening that he has devoted some attention to it (at least in his public remarks) in the last several months.

That said, it would be even better if the Administration would also follow up on this kind of rhetoric. It could, for example, direct its Office of Civil Rights in Education to stop pushing colleges to infringe on the civil liberties of their students in the name of combating harassment. (The OCR could even explicitly remind college administrations of the importance of free expression, as it did in 2003).

The Administration could also make an effort to be more open and charitable in its own political rhetoric. After the Paris attacks, for example, the President and his allies basically suggested that Americans who were worried about admitting Syrian refugees were bigots who weren’t worth engaging with. Displaying this kind of contempt for your own political opponents probably isn’t the best way to persuade your Millennial admirers to be more open-minded in campus debates.

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