Duke students claim political correctness has produced a ‘climate of fear’ on campus

Peter Fricke
Managing Editor

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  • Students at Duke University are banding together to call for the restoration of academic freedom.
  • Fed up with the politically correct orthodoxy they claim has created a “climate of fear” on campus, students at Duke University are banding together to call for the restoration of academic freedom.

    “We seek to invigorate the Duke community’s commitment to supporting an open intellectual climate on campus,” the Duke Open Campus Coalition (OCC) declares in an open letter addressed to University President Richard Brodhead published in The Duke Chronicle Wednesday.

    "All people should feel ‘safe’ when expressing their opinions on campus in an academic environment.”   

    “During our time here at Duke, we have encountered a community that values identity politics over reasoned discussion and debate when confronting real—and at times misperceived—instances of injustice,” the students explain. “Actions taken that emphasize identity politics create a climate of fear on campus whereby people who publicly dissent from the policies being proposed are afraid of being personally attacked and slandered.”

    The letter was signed by 12 students representing every class year, who say they were inspired by a similar group at Princeton University that was established in November after Princeton capitulated to an ultimatum from a group calling themselves the “Black Justice League,” particularly the university’s endorsement of a demand to create “safe spaces” for students based on race.

    [RELATED: Princeton students speak out against safe spaces]

    The Princeton OCC acknowledged the Duke chapter’s formation on its Facebook page, applauding the Duke students for following Princeton’s lead and encouraging students at other schools to do the same.

    Yet while the Duke group is reacting to issues that have arisen at colleges and universities across the country, the students feel that the climate of fear “has a particular character on Duke’s campus” that threatens to stifle open discussion.

    Not only do “some students consider it morally acceptable to remove copies of The Chronicle from campus when they disagree with its content,” the letter claims, but “select members of Duke Student Government’s Executive Board have taken to intimidating first-year student government representatives to affirm ‘politically correct’ views regardless of whether they agree with them.”

    “With grave concern about the tactics of some protestors and the substantive demands they are making, we call for an open and inclusive campus—a campus where all members of the Duke community can communicate openly as Blue Devils without fear that they will be censored if their views differ from, or even offend, other people,” the letter states before outlining the group’s specific objections.

    “First, while we are disturbed by acts of racism, homophobia, and bigotry on this campus, and agree that more can be done to combat intolerance, we do not believe that acts of bigotry committed by individuals implicate Duke as an institution,” they say. “We share the goals of increasing tolerance and punishing individual students who engage in behavior that harms other people, but we do not think these goals are best served by the policies some protesters have prescribed to advance them.”

    One such policy involves expanding the university’s definition of hate speech to include “speech that offends or insults,” which the OCC describes as “a slippery slope to censorship.” The students likewise object to the demand that Duke introduce mandatory diversity and bias training, predicting the effort “will amount to mandatory reeducation classes” and further discourage faculty and students from expressing dissenting opinions.

    They also contend that the activists’ demand that faculty demographic makeup be made consistent with that of the student body, arguing that “Instituting a quota system on staff members based on a student population that changes every year is not only unfeasible, but is wrong,” because it necessarily reduces quality to a secondary consideration in hiring decisions.

    “Moreover, mandating minimum or maximum thresholds on employment or student enrollment on the basis of skin color or gender reduces people to immutable characteristics of their identity,” the students add, saying they “strongly denounce the idea that our interactions with one another should be defined by demographic traits like race and gender.”

    The group also takes issue with the methods employed by student activists, claiming that “students from across the political spectrum were unsettled that protesters would vandalize Duke property, refuse to allow Duke administrators to ask questions during a community conversation, and seek to remove students on the Chronicle staff with whom they disagree politically.”

    [RELATED: Duke students petition to ‘fire’ opinion editor for ‘inflammatory’ column]

    "All people should feel ‘safe’ when expressing their opinions on campus in an academic environment,” the letter contends, calling attention to the contradictions in the activists’ demands. “The administration should not institutionalize a space where any member of this community, student or faculty, is protected from having even their most core values challenged and scrutinized.”

    The OCC concludes the letter by commending the administration for taking steps to “methodically study bias and hate issues,” but counsels “creating an administrative channel to scrutinize policy proposals and streamline deliverables [to] help ensure all parties have a stake in ensuring we can combat bigotry.”

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    Peter Fricke

    Peter Fricke

    Managing Editor

    Peter Fricke is the Managing Editor for Campus Reform. He has previously worked on state and national political campaigns, and was a reporter for The Daily Caller News Foundation.

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