By Peter Hasson
As reported by The Wall Street Journal last week, the majority of college students now want their schools to use “speech codes” to censor faculty and students’ speech. Almost two-thirds (63%) of college students say their universities should force their professors to use “trigger warnings” to prepare students for course material they might find uncomfortable. If you take students’ word for it, reading the Great Gatsby or hearing Christina Hoff Sommers talk are “triggering”–and thus dangerous–experiences and students face real damage from participating.
But it’s not just the students.
The presidents of Lewis and Clark college and Northwestern University recently penned an op-ed in the LA Times to defend trigger warnings as a “public safety” issue that students claim to need. University of Chicago professor Eric Posner defended speech codes on the grounds that college students need to be treated like children. Posner also justified trigger warnings on the grounds that students wanted them; universities are just responding to market demand. Put aside for a second the question of whether trigger warnings might actually be harmful for students’ mental health. The pro-trigger crowd’s logic still has some serious flaws.
Take their economic logic, for example.
Is the market demand really there? Sure, sixty-three percent of students want trigger warnings. We also don’t want to graduate in debt up to our eyeballs but that hasn’t kept universities from jacking the price of tuition through the roof. More importantly, despite the skyrocketing costs of college, seventy-seven percent of parents still plan on helping their kids pay for college. And isn’t that where the market really lies? With the ones footing the bill? If so, then the market demand might not be there at all. In fact, just fifteen percent of parents in a recent survey considered it “highly important” for their kids’ university to force professors to use trigger warnings, far below the seventy-three percent of parents who considered it “highly important” that their son or daughter acquire “real-world marketable skills” while at college. And that’s where colleges are failing their students the worst: only 39% of employers believe that students are leaving college well prepared to join the workforce. Outside of academia, results matter more than feelings. College kids might not get that but our tuition-paying parents sure do. University presidents should listen to the market and drop the obsession with trigger warnings and focus on preparing students for post-college success. And if they don’t, maybe they should retake Economics 101.