Some students get to college already primed for the political correctness typical of today’s leftwing campus politics, as Catherine Rampbell reminds us in her Washington Post column today. According to a recent national survey, “students are setting foot on campus already more liberal, more protest-happy and more amenable to speech restrictions than their predecessors,” she says. “Which suggests that colleges themselves are not wholly responsible for rising liberal and illiberal tendencies on campus — even if they do sometimes aid and abet both trends.”
Rampbell’s comments are consistent with the observations of Jonathan Haidt, one of the foremost experts on the new campus political correctness. In a recent interview with John Leo of Minding the Campus, Haidt said:
The big thing that really worries me – the reason why I think things are going to get much, much worse – is that one of the causal factors here is the change in child-rearing that happened in America in the 1980s. With the rise in crime, amplified by the rise of cable TV, we saw much more protective, fearful parenting. Children since the 1980s have been raised very differently–protected as fragile [. . .]
I’m not saying they need to be spanked or beaten, but they need to have a lot of unsupervised time, to get in over their heads and get themselves out. And that greatly decreased in the 1980s. Anxiety, fragility and psychological weakness have skyrocketed in the last 15-20 years. So, I think millennials come to college with much thinner skins. And therefore, until that changes, I think we’re going to keep seeing these demands to never hear anything offensive.
So while PC foes are right to ridicule campus censors, and right to criticize campus administrators when they surrender to the activists’ authoritarian demands, this approach may not be sufficient.
Here’s one policy change that might help get closer to the root of the problem: Admissions committees should ask students to demonstrate—through essays, recommendations, and extra-curricular activities—their independence, toughness, and openness to opposing views. We’ve tended to be skeptical of “holistic” college admissions regimes, in which admissions officers try to divine the character traits of 17-year-olds. But to the extent that those regimes are already in place, traits like emotional resilience and grace in the face of disagreement should be considered in addition to today’s more common criteria, like empathy and commitment to social justice. This might help colleges weed out at least some of the students who would be likely to have emotional meltdowns when they were offended, or call for the firing of professors with differing political views. And if there was a widespread sense that colleges were not interested in accepting special snowflakes, perhaps some helicopter parents would be less likely to coddle their children.