EDITORIAL: Campus debate

As students flock back to college campuses in Nevada and around the nation, it’s worth pondering: Are institutions of higher learning charged with coddling these young adults so they won’t ever be offended or upset? Or are these schools still places where students can be challenged and exposed to a variety of concepts and ideas to better prepare them for the rigors of the real world?

The University of Chicago is one of the few institutions in this country that firmly believes it’s the latter. And the school is not afraid to say so. John (Jay) Ellison, dean of students for the College at the University of Chicago, made that abundantly clear in a letter sent to incoming students of the class of 2020.

Wrote Mr. Ellison: “Once here you will discover that one of the University of Chicago’s defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression. … Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn, without fear of censorship. Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others. You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement. At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.”

Perish the thought, right?

That such a letter even needs to be written is a sad commentary on our times. But unfortunately, many institutions have abandoned the notion that university students must be free to explore ideas and opinions, to debate and disagree — even if that disagreement is often uncomfortable.

Mr. Ellison continues: “Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own. … Diversity of opinion and background is a fundamental strength of our community. The members of our community must have the freedom to espouse and explore a wide range of ideas.”

Amen. This is why the University of Chicago is one of just 28 schools — among nearly 450 campuses rated nationwide — that has earned a green-light rating for free speech from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Not surprisingly, neither UNLV nor UNR is on the green-light list. For years, both received the foundation’s red-light rating before making modest improvements recently to reach a “yellow” designation. But that’s not good enough.

Both schools should harbor an even higher aspiration to ensure their campuses are bastions of free speech and robust debate. The Board of Regents, university administrators and the citizens of Nevada should demand nothing less. The Chicago way is the way to go.

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