There were plenty of cheers when the University of Chicago sent a letter to incoming students making it clear that the school didn’t condone the creation of safe spaces “where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”

Of course it wouldn’t be long before the university came under fire for its stand.

Perverse? That’s pretty strong condemnation. Jeet Heer made the charge in the New Republic Thursday, comparing the letter to the burqini bans that are popping up around France.

If professors don’t feel free to implement their own policies on such things as trigger warnings, he concludes, then the university administration “is clearly making a stance on a pedagogical decision that has traditionally been left up to professors.” He adds, “Academic freedom means that professors get to design their syllabus, not administrators,” and the letter could have a chilling effect on educators.

About that … a complicating factor here is the assumption that, in 2016, administrators actually exert control over professors, who have control of their own classrooms; in many cases, it’s the students who are exerting their influence over the administration — and winning.

Rather than accept the curriculum in place when they accepted admittance to the University of Seattle, for example, students held a three-week occupation of the administration building, demanding that the school scrap its Eurocentric curriculum, decentralize whiteness, and instead “focus on the evolution of systems of oppression such as racism, capitalism, [and] colonialism.”

The school caved and put a besieged dean on leave, with student protesters claiming that her presence had been “profoundly damaging and erasing, with lasting effects on our mental and emotional well-being.”

The dean’s racist transgression? She reportedly used the n-word in suggesting that a student read comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory’s autobiography, the title of which is simply … the n-word. That was her voluntary pedagogical choice, and she was run off campus for it.

In a surprising show of spine, Oberlin’s president recently said no to a 14-page list of student demands that the school set up “special, segregated black-only ‘safe-spaces’ across campus” and pay an $8.20 an hour stipend to organizers of black student protests — less than a year after commencement speaker Michelle Obama urged graduating Oberlin students to leave their comfort zones rather than retreat into safe spaces in the real world.

When students themselves demand black-only safe spaces, is the University of Chicago really so out of line to tell incoming freshmen not to expect to find them there?

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