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Martin Center Column Ponders Academic Safe Spaces

The Martin Center features Duke professor Michael Munger’s recent argument in favor of safe spaces on college campuses.

I want to come out in favor of safe spaces. Not everywhere, or for all purposes, but in general I think there should be a strong presumption in favor of limited and exclusive safe spaces for any group that wants to establish one.

Of course, the group would need to have the ability and legal right to use the space and exclude “others,” but often this would involve nothing more than the ability to reserve a public space that has a door that shuts.

My main claim is that “safe spaces” for students must include ideologically selected groups, just as it includes social groups such as fraternities and sororities. Freedom of association is the key to understanding academic freedom. And academic freedom, not freedom of speech, is the bedrock principle of universities and colleges.

It has become common for “my” side to decry safe spaces, sometimes because we want to mock the inability of “snowflakes” to deal with even mild dissent and sometimes for more principled “freedom of speech” reasons. …

… I have elsewhere claimed that students on the Left are being denied an education, for just this reason: being insulated from disagreement means that they have only learned one-move chess openings. They don’t know how to respond to countermoves. They are rewarded for having memorized politically correct catechisms, having never actually heard arguments against, or for that matter for, their position.

While I’m sympathetic to this idea that universities should not be, and by stated purpose cannot be, “safe spaces,” we have to be careful. There is a big difference between claiming universities should be safe spaces — that’s absurd — and claiming that universities should not promote internal safe spaces — because safe spaces are really just another name for freedom of association.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...