During a speech at an education town hall in Des Moines, Iowa, US President Barack Obama said that liberal college students shouldn’t be coddled in the classroom. Responding to an audience question regarding federal funding of colleges with political bias, Obama spoke about political correctness and the ultimate purpose of higher education.
Commenting on college political correctness, Obama said about the sensitivity prevalent in many colleges that:
“I’ve heard of some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative, or they don’t want to read a book if it had language that is offensive to African Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women,” Obama said.
“I’ve got to tell you, I don’t agree with that either — that you when you become students at colleges, you have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. Anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with them, but you shouldn’t silence them by saying you can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.”
As the Washington Post notes, Obama’s word choice of “coddled” is significant; it’s an argument that is brought up frequently in how colleges are pressured to accommodate student requests regarding political correctness and individual sensitivities.
Obama went on to argue that the ultimate purpose of college education is not just the transmission of skills and knowledge, but also for expanding students’ horizons, making better citizens and helping individuals evaluate information provided to them. Obama shared his definition of college education based on his own college experience:
“Because there was this space where you could interact with people who didn’t agree with you and had different backgrounds from you … I started testing my own assumptions, and sometimes I changed my mind,” he said. “Sometimes I realized, maybe I’ve been too narrow-minded; maybe I didn’t take this into account; maybe I should see this person’s perspective. That’s what college, in part, is all about.”
Comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have also railed against campus over-sensitivity.
Obama said that students are stifling debate on campuses rather than engaging in it. Geoffrey Stone, a First Amendment scholar, shared Obama’s viewpoint, telling the Huffington Post:
“Part of what a college education is for is to be real people, to be citizens — not to protect them from discomforts of life.”
Stone added that today’s students have been conditioned by their parents to believe they are “entitled to be safe and comfortable.”
Robert L. Shibley, the Executive Director for the Foundation For Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), echoed Stone’s and Obama’s opinions, saying:
“We’re very glad to see that President Obama shares our concerns about the danger of trigger warnings, speaker disinvitations, and campus censorship.”