The Truth is Rarely Safe

Emory University allows students to write messages in chalk on its sidewalks. At Baylor where I teach, as at most places, chalking (as it is called) is most often used as an invitation to an event (e.g., “Catholic Student Association talk @6:30 on 2/1”). Sometimes it is used to exercise political speech, as it was on the campus of Emory a week ago, when someone chalked in large letters several phrases including “Trump 2016,” “Vote Trump,” and “Accept the inevitable.”

Apparently, 40 to 50 Emory students were so emotionally scarred by the sight of the chalked inscription that they publicly protested against the graffiti’s very existence. Because of Mr. Trump’s harsh positions on immigration, especially on Muslim immigration, many of the students claimed that the chalked inscriptions were intended to be divisive, and thus contrary to the welcoming inclusiveness to which Emory aspires.

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According to a Washington Post account, the protesting students shouted, “You are not listening! Come speak to us, we are in pain!” The student newspaper, The Emory Wheel, reports one student saying that her “first reaction to the chalking was one of fear.” But she notes, “I told myself that it was a prank, and that the responsible individual was probably laughing in their room. I told myself that Emory would do something about it.”

Although I certainly share the students’ rejection of Mr. Trump’s politics – as I have noted on this page and elsewhere – their displays of emotional outrage, and the language they have used to propagate them, are deleterious to the primary purpose of a university: the pursuit of truth. Even more importantly, such displays ignore a simple Christian and human insight: truth, in this world, is hardly “safe.”

For the appeal to offense changes the question that should be assessed by members of the academic community – the grounds of the wrongness or rightness of Mr. Trump’s views and the quality of his character. Instead, claiming “offense” exacerbates an aspect of our common nature that often impedes our ability to think clearly and carefully when untethered from our rational faculties: our concupiscible and irascible appetites.

Unfortunately, Emory’s president, James Wagner, did not seek to put these appetites in their proper place by showing his students how the passions, though not in themselves bad, must be subdued and harnessed by reason in order to have even a fighting chance of acquiring the truth. The pursuit of truth, however, doesn’t even make a cameo appearance in his comments. President Wagner states:

During our conversation, [the protesting students] voiced their genuine concern and pain in the face of this perceived intimidation. After meeting with our students, I cannot dismiss their expression of feelings and concern as motivated only by political preference or over-sensitivity. Instead, the students with whom I spoke heard a message, not about political process or candidate choice, but instead about values regarding diversity and respect that clash with Emory’s own.

To be sure, President Wagner affirms that “as an academic community, we must value and encourage the expression of ideas, vigorous debate, speech, dissent, and protest.” But then he says in the next sentence, “At the same time, our commitment to respect, civility, and inclusion calls us to provide a safe environment that inspires and supports courageous inquiry.”

Trump2016

But here’s the problem: a “safe” environment does not inspire courage, let alone an “expression of ideas, vigorous debate, speech, dissent, and protest,” unless these happen to be consistent with the prevailing campus orthodoxy.

As we know from experience, institutionalizing the philosophy of “safe spaces” winds up rewarding ideological conformity while empowering the most vocal and active members of the campus community to marginalize and shame those they think are responsible for a “perceived intimidation.”

What results, paradoxically, is an environment seemingly “safe” only for those who both conform to the campus’ sociopolitical hegemony and want to be insulated from encountering ideas that make them feel uncomfortable. But “unsafe” for those who believe that the primary purpose of a university is the pursuit of truth. For sometimes this pursuit leads certain members of the academic community to embrace and defend beliefs that “clash” with their school’s sociopolitical hegemony.

I say “seemingly safe” because, when you think about it, the advocates of safe spaces are really harming themselves. Consider this example. A couple of years ago, a young African-American man at Northwestern University refused to perform a piece of choral music assigned by his professor. His reason? The piece was based on the poetry of Walt Whitman, who was undoubtedly a racist. Here’s what I published online in response to the student:

You do yourself no good by not seeing the greatness even in people who have held disreputable ideas. To look at Walt Whitman and just see a racist is precisely what makes racism wrong: you don’t see the entire person – in all his complexities, virtues, and foibles – you just see the race. By doing this, you artificially flatten the person, and thus you literally lie to yourself, for you intentionally deny the truth that a great man can have within him both grandeur and vice. If you want to be better than Whitman, rid yourself of the habits of mind that in him resulted in the beliefs that you now find offensive. The ability to separate the wheat from the chaff is a sign of intellectual maturity. Thus, discarding the wheat because you can’t bear the chaff does not punish Mr. Whitman; it punishes you.

This is why the pursuit of truth rarely flourishes in “safe” spaces.

Francis J. Beckwith

Francis J. Beckwith

Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy & Church-State Studies, Baylor University, and 2016-17 Visiting Professor of Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Among his many books is Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

  • Michael DeLorme

    Where is Mario Savio now that the universities actually need him? He was the most prominent member of the 60s radical Free Speech Movement at Berkeley. That was back when students demanded the right to speak their minds on any matter they chose:

    “You’re supporting Chaing Kai-shek, while I’m supporting Mao…and when I’ve got something to say, sir, I’m gonna say it now” went the Phil Ochs’ anthem. And administrations, then, balked.

    Nowadays, students all over the country are demanding their campuses be a womb away from home. And today’s administrations couldn’t be more compliant. But, at least they don’t risk repeats of Kent State riots and a National Guard presence. Just quietly suppress and censure anyone who says the wrong thing to the wrong person.

    • John

      Those that are offended by Trump, must support someone else? I would say to them to honestly evaluate the candidates using the Ten Commandments the Law of God and the laws of our country. I would advise you to pray a lot for themselves and our country.

      • Michael DeLorme

        You must be responding to an ill-considered earlier version of this posting. I was trying to make the point that, in the sixties, it was largely leftist students who were responding to what they considered was an oppressive academic establishment. They demanded to be heard, however controversial their positions.

        Today it is largely conservative/populists voters who are reacting to the RINO Republican establishment which for too many years has ignored their rejection of the establishment’s policies. They too are demanding to be heard—even if it means supporting someone as crass and scrappy as Trump.

        The parallel I was attempting didn’t work, as I had switched wires between the academic setting and the political setting.

        Believe me, I do continue to pray daily for both our country and its people.

  • Francis Miller

    Shutting down free speech and soon shutting down free assembly are signs of tyranny. This quote by Mencken is short and to the point.
    “When A annoys or injures B on the pretense of saving or improving X, A is a scoundrel” (HL Mencken).
    The scoundrels have found safe haven in protecting their ‘inner essence’, their passions, over which no external threat can be tolerated in order for them to sustain their tolerance.
    It is quite a clever and infernal logic. I have witnessed it myself. The scoundrel will willingly give up inalienable rights to preserve that which is not a right, feeling good.

  • Michael Dowd

    Perhaps the reason for this pansiness among the students is that truth is not something that is valued or sought. And the reason it is not sought is because, especially among the liberal elites, it is thought not to exist.

  • RickWI

    I’ve seen signs on school grounds that say, “drug free zone” and “gun free zone.” Maybe we need a sign that says, “trump free zone?” In today’s insane world, a false sense of security seems to make us feel safe.

    • MJSoy

      It seems to me that universities are becoming “common sense free zones.” How are these children (and that is what they are) going to function in the real world, after they graduate?

  • grump

    If blacks want “safe spaces,” then whites should have them too. After all, isn’t this the “equality” that the liberals always say they want?

    How telling that a bit of harmless pro-Trump graffiti can elicit “fear and pain” while the thousands of violent thugs who comprise the anti-Trump mob can get away with shouting for Donald’s assassination, killing cops, rioting in the streets, burning down cities and violently disrupting traffic and peaceful assemblies with impunity — all under the constant adoring glare of the media spotlight.

    Perhaps more heavy doses of Ritalin would help the Left relax a bit more because civil logical discussion doesn’t seem to work. Maybe permanent relocation to Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia or Sudan would help them appreciate the freedoms and handouts they enjoy in U.S. But you would never know this, listening to Obama’s constant whining and apologies for America’s “racist” DNA.

    Imagine the “fear and pain” that would have resulted had someone chalked “Hillary 2016”, “Bernie 2016” and “Black Lives Matter” at college campuses across the nation. Why, traumatized independent thinkers and dissenters would have to be hauled off en masse to the nearest psychiatric care unit for sensitivity training and re-education.

    How hypocritical the groveling, dishonest and leftist-complicit media are for 24/7 reporting on an alleged “assault” of a Trump feminist stalker while glorifying the “protestors,” including the nut who stormed the stage in an effort to become a “martyr” for their “cause.”

    How tiresome is the playing of the “race card,” the “gender card” and all the others in the “rules for radicals” deck dealt by the crazies who claim “mental and emotional” stress every time someone expresses a different view that does not comport with the “group think” so famously described by Orwell. Like his overwhelmed protagonist in 1984, we “Winston Smiths” are trying hard to avoid the conformity imposed by the Thought Police, which today is made up of the liberal loonies, Hollywood, the mass media, academia and the “anonymous authorities” who shape what passes for public discourse. Unlike poor Winston, many of us in the end will never learn to love Big Brother nor accept the modern idea that 2+2=5, which signifies that obedience to authority trumps (no pun intended) truth or fact.

    In the end “safe spaces,” a.k.a. segregation, likely are are a good idea as along as everyone is allowed to have them.

    • nosidam

      Gotta reply here! Yes!
      You are right.
      All the ‘offended’ people needed to do was write their own opposite comments on other parts of the sidewalk! Instead they cried and ran to ‘mommy’ to make them feel better.
      Many of T he young people of today were raised by the the clueless doting parents of yesterday.
      What a mess. Thanks for your great reply!

      • Sheila

        But that’s what you or I may have done. You or I are not them. Fear does strange things to people. Have mercy.

    • Sheila

      Both sides yes. And the ones who are afraid don’t get a voice now? You said it…both sides get a voice.
      “Alleged feminist assault on Trump”. Trump supporters watch the videos. That woman never did anything. A security agent was right behind her. He obviously thought she was ok and it was his job not Mr Trump’s campain manager to protect him. The CM was arrested. Let the judge decide. By the way Mr Trump said that women who have had abortions shiuld go to jail. Then the next day he changed his mind. Good grief… please ask God who is the best to vote for.

  • Harry

    When a group of people are the victims of an assault they have the right to defend themselves and to enlist others in their defense.

    The more grievous the injury being done to that group of people the more they have a right to insist that the “powers that be” defend them.

    Joseph Goebbels forcefully argued that the Germans were being assaulted and victimized by the Jews and that the government had an obligation to take whatever actions were necessary to defend them. He didn’t use the term “safe space”, but it was for the “safety” of Germans that the “resettlement” of the Jews was necessary. The Jews being somewhere else would create a “safe space” for German citizens.

    This is where the irrational “safe space” movement, if it isn’t exposed for what it really is, will inevitably take society.

  • Alicia

    What percentage of our next generation are the ” in pain, safe space”, immature cry babies ? Who raised these kids ?
    Your essay and the university’s reaction reminded me of a speech by Mother Angelica on EWTN last night.
    It was against the ‘new’ sermons in which the ‘ugly, ugly, offensive ‘ word SIN must not be mentioned. It went something like this: ” no, no, no ! Be NICE, don’t offend them, let them go to hell, but don’t OFFEND them. ”
    With all this ‘safe space ‘crap universities are letting kids go to hell, which is what reality will be like to them without their universities there to protect them and listen to their ‘pain .’ They will go under. Our blind, nice, non-offensive country is in big, big trouble now and it will get worse, a lot worse.
    Why and how were these ‘ elites ‘ allowed to take over.?
    How can this be reversed ?
    Pof. Beckwith, how many like you are there ? How many ‘martyrs’ are willing to stand up, risk their tenures, their jobs, and help the future generation ?
    We need right faith, certain hope, and lots and lots of prayers.

    • nosidam

      I ALSO HEARD MOTHER ANGELICA SAY THAT! RIGHT ON ALICIA! I AGREE WITH YOU. PEOPLE ARE CONFUSED AND NEED THE TRUTH WITH NO APOLOGIES.
      WE NEED MORE MOTHER ANGELICA’S!

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    Although I agree Dr Beckwith that your premises are rationally correct, I’m not convinced that those same excellent rational premises should be an absolute standard. The rationale is from Thomas Aquinas [who else?], that it is not the universal principles [your excellent premises], that determine the morality of an act but the conditions of the act. Prudence, the moral virtue of deliberating an act must always determine its morality there. Example. The student who expressed her views in the Emory student paper does not come across as unreasonable, volatile. She voices a real, reasonable concern raised by the rabble rousing that purposeful or not by the Trump campaign strikes fear in the minds and hearts of minorities. The pursuit of Truth is often a two edged sword. Some on this site will applaud the notion of segregating, limiting, punishing minorities. It is simply morally wrong. Reason must have a just end, and justice is not served if we smother it with rationale for civility, decorum. Jews had no such freedom to protest in Nazi Germany. Thanks be to God in America we do.

    • Grump

      @Pete Morello. Peaceful protests are one thing, violent disruptions, a constant tactic of the Left, is another. The “rabble rousers” you mention are not in the Trump campaign but populate the Bernie, Hillary and Obama crowds that brook no dissent whatsoever. And when whites become a “minority” in America around the year 2050, will you still be clamoring for “justice”? The problem with Christianity today and Catholicism in particular is you have forgotten the wisdom of your Founder Who did not suffer fools gladly. To give credence to that insipid Emory student as “reasonable” is to be blind and claim to see.

      • Dominic Lombardo

        I disagree – in part. The “rabble rousers” are most certainly there in the Trump campaign – as they also are in the Sanders, Clinton, and Obama crowds that you mention.

        In fact, the more I see and hear of them, the more that Mr. Trump and his supporters remind me of Sen. Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip and the League of Forgotten Men and the Minute Men in Sinclair Lewis’s excellent 1935 novel IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE. Read it: you’ll see what I mean.

      • dbrown8

        Excellent point. I think we all know who the Priest will be voting for in November.

    • Quo Vadis

      “Some on this site will applaud the notion of segregating, limiting, punishing minorities.”

      How is this the case ? Are you speaking about those who support Mr. Trump ? Is being against illegal immigration so wrong ? Why do laws exist if not to promote order and fairness for all citizens ? Certainly our Church has enough rules and regulations which are supposed to guide us to salvation. Are these meant for punishment and segregation ?

      I doubt anyone here wants to punish minorities as you suggest. Instead, I propose they are for equal treatment under the law and punishment for those who do not obey the law. If that includes deportation, building a wall, or other punishment/treatment to secure the freedoms promised in the constitution that would be proper and just.

    • Nancy Lynne

      You may not think that the student who expressed his views in the Emory student paper does not come across as unreasonable, volatile but I certainly do. His first response was fear, his second was that it must be a prank and his third response was that the school authorities would do something.
      How do I perceive this? Here is a student at the college level who assumes that everyone on the campus should think, feel and act as the student does; the chalker thinks like the student and is just joking around; the officials should censor and stop this affront to this student. He takes no responsibility himself to resolve this issue that as he perceives it.
      It is scary to see how many students fall into this category of extreme immaturity and fuzzy thinking.
      I heartily agree with the comments of Grump and Quo Vadis.

    • Dave Fladlien

      Father Morello: I ask this question very seriously, not meaning to engage in the kind of debate that has unfortunately characterized our exchanges recently —

      “The rationale is from Thomas Aquinas [who else?], that it is not the universal principles…, that determine the morality of an act but the conditions of the act.” Am I understanding you correctly? This seems very close to situation ethics. As you know, I believe in a very limited form of situation ethics, which I call “Exception Ethics”, but this seems a much more global statement. Coming from St. Thomas, I find that very important.

      Could you please comment on this for me and anyone else who might be wondering about it? Thank you.

      • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

        Dave you make your request with an innuendo. If the previous discussion troubles you, what was said by me addressed ideas not you personally. If I judge a thought as nonsense I’ll point out that it is nonsense. Situation ethics does not identify acts that are evil by nature, or good by nature. The focus is on the perception of the person or persons, say an act of adultery perceived to be warranted because of a need for support, affirmation. Aquinas’ ethics is essentially different, and focused on the actual conditions of the act, which determine if the object, intent, and circumstances of the act are all good. If not the act is immoral. The act is always subject to synderesis, the reflective assessment of conformity of the act to the principles of natural law. Your wonderment may cease if you read the book I recommended.

        • Dave Fladlien

          If you are referring to *your* book, I did read the chapters on conscience, as I thought I told you. I don’t see the difference between the two situations you refer to just above. How can “the conditions of the act” be a valid consideration and not the perception of the conditions? We can judge only by our perception. We don’t have infused knowledge.

          With regard to my “innuendo”, I don’t think a candid exchange of ideas has to be caustic. A lot of them on this (and other) commentary sites are, and that is something that we all fall into at times, but I think it highly undesirable. It is not always clear to me that your comments are not personal. If you say to me, “I just punched you in the teeth but it wasn’t meant personally,” I’m not going to be very inclined to take it as non-personal. The “nature” of the act? The “circumstances” of the act? In my example here, they both point to the same thing. The intent may not have been personal, but the result in my opinion at times is personal, whether intended that way or not. This does not just refer to you, either.

        • Dave Fladlien

          Update on my earlier reply which I don’t see posted yet (this may draw some flak from somewhere but I mean it seriously): I keep forgetting you’re from New York. People from New York tend to say things more directly than we do in California. I’ll try to keep that in mind in the future, but I do think there is merit to my (as yet unposted) comment too.

          • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

            Thanks for being understanding Dave. I’ll accept the criticism and try to come across as less caustic. I meant reading the entire book, which includes a chapter on reason and detailed explanation of Aquinas’ ethics. As long as your stuck in your own thought we can’t make much progress. For example the good or evil of an act is not dependent on your perception. The act is such by nature. The object of an act determines what an act is about, what it actually does. In medical ethics is the act designed to kill, such as using forceps to crush an infants skull. We can’t say then the use of forceps was meant to alter the size of the skull for extraction as some ethicists say. In Aquinas’ ethics conditions refer to that including available options, the seriousness of procedure, circumstances the physical condition of the mother, infant, the urgency required to save their lives if possible and so forth. So if you determine perception as a form of intuition as I know you lean toward the notion perception tends to be scurrilous. Perception for Aquinas is objectively based not subjective.

  • BXVI

    The university system is not fixable. It needs to be burned to the ground (figuratively, of course). There is no other option except to start over completely from scratch.

  • Rene

    Hilary and Bernie are 100% pro-abortion. This means they are 100% for parents having the right to murder their children. I believe, however, that their supporters have the right to write “vote for Hilary,” or “vote for Bernie.” Their supporters and the media would be asking for President Wagner’s resignation if he would had said what he said about “vote for Trump” about “vote for Hilary” or “vote for Bernie.” The double standard here is so clear, it is pathetic.

    • Dominic Lombardo

      To me, the most telling of the three chalked comments, whether or not they were a prank, was the third: “Accept the inevitable.” And that could have been written just as easily, and meant in all seriousness, by a supporter of Sen. Sanders or of Mrs. Clinton or of Pres. Obama as by a supporter of Sen. Windrip – oops, sorry, Mr. Trump.

  • Bridget Kildare

    As the mother of 5 – yes, 5 – current college students at 5 different colleges, I am keenly aware of how the “you are entitled to your opinion as long as it is the same as mine” culture is flourishing in academia, and frightened by it. Dr. Beckwith, your response to the student regarding Walt Whitman was spot on, and your conclusion is the real reason Trump frightens people. He says uncomfortable things and creates “unsafe spaces,” and because that has become so novel, people are drawn to it like flies to fire. College students only think they want safe spaces because that is what they have experienced. They yawn at the predictable and feel energized by the unusual. Truth doesn’t matter, and no one does their own research, sadly. Faith is uncomfortable. Accountability is uncomfortable. The more we regulate and create unenforceable rules, the more we create intolerance. God help us.

    • Dominic Lombardo

      And I wonder just what the reaction would have been at Northwestern University had that same African-American male student referred to in the article refused to perform said work with a text by Walt Whitman on the grounds that Whitman was a homosexual, rather than on the grounds of his racist statements.

      My other take on said incident is: should we also thereby allow students to refuse to perform the music of Richard Wagner, with or without text, because he was anti-Jewish in his prose writings (though not in his operas)?

  • Great piece but unfortunately it will fall on deaf ears for those who most need to hear it.

  • Patsy Koenig

    Francis Beckwith, do you not read history anymore? For a Catholic expert to object to a temporary halt on Islamic immigration to the USA, until they can be vetted, is ignorance. Parts of the Catholic Church were demolished by Islam. And the Catholic Church fought vigorously against the Islamic invasion of both Eastern and Western Europe, for centuries. Now you want to open the doors and welcome the intolerant anti-religion of Islam. Universities have really dropped their standards for intelligence.

    • George Gano

      Great post Patsy. Folks need to take a look at Islam through a Historical Lens. If we DO NOT we will be doomed to repeat history. There is plenty of historical data that does not paint Islam in a positive light. St Thomas Aquinas’ writings from the 1200’s still ring true until today. Just look at recent history too. Please stop the PC and follow the clues. COEXISTENCE is not a word in the ISLAMIC lexicon.

      • dbrown8

        Thank you. Spot on.

    • Brad Miner

      I’m curious: Where in his column does Prof. Beckwith say anything about “a temporary halt on Islamic immigration”?

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    Well I understand the ire and expected it. The point is some minority kids are frightened by the Trump movement and radical, violent persons [not all of course] who support it. I don’t adhere to all the accusations made, and don’t feel I need to respond to each. I suppose I take Wittgenstein’s maxim that when you reach a certain point in assessing an issue “Leave the damned thing alone!”, meaning we oft analyze things beyond recognition of what precisely it is we wish to say. What is Prof Beckwith saying? That the young minority woman had no right to speak out, that she was wrong, exaggerating in fearing for her safety? That it was what, immoral to ask the College Pres that she be offered security from apparent radicals supporting Trump? Perhaps those graffiti students are expressing prejudice. Perhaps they are prone to violence. Please don’t tell me that cannot be the case. What in the world does the student critical of Walt Whitman have to do with the pursuit of truth in the Emory U case? If that’s what Beckwith and some of you agree with my response is your values are misplaced. In Nazi Germany the persecution of Jews began with graffiti, anti Jewish writings all over Jewish shops and homes. Now none of these situations are perfect and Emory Pres Wagner addressed this situation well and deserves credit.

    • Sheila

      You read my mind – the non “intellectual” one that I have. I totally agree with you Father. Free speech includes both sides of the issue. And when fear enters (even the possibility of fear) it changes things. Really, if I were in charge, I would need to know who wrote the statements so I could assess if there was a possible safety issue. And that logic is based solely on the fact that Donald Trump’s gatherings have assaults and fights at times. No matter who started them. It would be a precautionary measure and the only reason I would need to know. In fact all students should have to get approval before posting anything and have designated locations so all can see. i.e. what if the postings were porn for example? This is the way it used to be on campus.

    • Howard Beale

      Anyone going from a chalked slogan on a university sidewalk to Nazi Germany in one jump makes me feel unsafe and beleaguered on account of my race and ethnicity. Please stop immediately!

      • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

        It was hyperbole Howard to emphasize that graffiti can be used as a weapon.

    • Nancy Lynne

      “Well I understand the ire and expected it.” I did not read any “ire” in any of the replies to your comments–just a difference of opinion.

    • George Gano

      Please also call out the RADICAL and VIOLENT folks that are supporting CRUZ, CLINTON, and SANDERS.

    • John II

      Hi Father. Long time no rant. Anyhow, I guess this time it’s my turn to defend Mr. Beckwith, even after being taken to task by you some months ago for the irascible and disrespectful tone in my (droll, I thought) allusion to Mr. Beckwith’s sophomoric logic. (The only thing I’ve ever found easy about the Gospel is the injunction not to be a “respecter of persons.”)

      I’m not sure how intimately familiar you are with the culture of contemporary academia. But I’m writing now as someone who recently achieved the freedom of retirement after serving a 43-year sentence behind the ivied bars of academe, the atmosphere of which was made all the more rarefied by my witnessing the steady erosion and final disintegration of Catholic identity at a particular university that happened to be Jesuit.

      With the advantage of that optic, and some lengthy and tedious training in logic, I detect a false analogy in your allusion to Nazi Germany. At Emory the selective indignation on display by the preposterous President Wagner didn’t begin with graffiti; it began with the toxic mixture of soft-left political correctness and careerist ambition on display in the background and behavior of contemporary college professors and administrators.

      A better analogy for what’s going on at Emory and elsewhere is on display in the third novel of C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy, That Hideous Strength. The novel was published in 1945, yet the gnostic villains depicted in the complicated plot anticipate perfectly the sort of people now busily destroying our colleges and universities. The villains are clever but shallow materialist ignoramuses who seek to perfect mankind through their National Institute of Coordinated Experiments.

      The acronym for their sinister endeavor is N.I.C.E.

      • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

        Hello John. It has been awhile. You certainly have much more of a credentialed background in academia than I do. My teaching experience was one year in Africa prior to ordination and a couple of years in Africa both in seminaries a few years past. So I take what you say with serious respect. You most likely know the political scenario at Emory and Pres Wagner better than I do. Nonetheless [that’s a great word isn’t it] I judged that scenario in accord with my perception. Trump [I’m not a Trump hater as some wish to assume just a critic] has a following among whom are some persons bent on violence. Now if I were a minority and saw Trump 2016 on every step at the U entrance, I would feel intimidated, or at least concerned since it wouldn’t strike me as a promotion of Trump but rather an act of intimidation aimed at me. Why? You know the answer. Perhaps the comparison to Nazi Germany seems a stretch. In my first comment it was correct in distinguishing our democracy’s freedom from a police state, whether it be Nazi Germ, Fascist Italy, Castro’s Cuba, Malawi under Dr Banda when I first taught there in 74. What Prof Beckwith presented in his article today as regards the young lady did not appear to be a “display of emotional outrage deleterious to the pursuit of truth.” That is the stretch. Truth? As presented it was a young woman concerned about her safety, perhaps rights, perhaps dignity. And on face value Pres Wagner reacted as he should have. Dismissal, imperviousness would have been less than sincerely interested on his part.

      • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

        Furthermore John I read some news reports on the scenario in Atlanta and reviews are mixed. There is no grand victory and unwarranted submission betraying academic integrity on the part of Pres Wagner and the U, or is it in essence Left leaning political correctness. He simply acknowledged the minority students’ concern and corrected the obviously unlawful defacement of U property. He did not promise them utopia. Was this the proverbial storm in a teacup. It depends on our perspective. If every such reaction by students is judged to be “a display of emotional outrage deleterious to the truth” then my judgment is the reverse in respect to Prof Beckwith’s ethical judgment, and that of others on this site who different from Beckwith, will submissively defend the moral chameleon Trump tooth and nail regardless of fairness.

        • John II

          Well, if the reviews are mixed, and such reviews are your only source of information about some incidents that fit a recurring pattern that you haven’t experienced personally, I would think your best bet would be to suspend judgment. I don’t follow how mixed reviews can be a source of the umbrage you’re taking against Beckwith’s remarks.

          When I was watching the steady collapse of Catholic identity in the face of a brash and militant secularism at the university where I taught, I recall a Jesuit colleague of mine (a very good man and a keenly insightful teacher of literature) who simply could not talk about what was happening. Eventually I started to avoid the topic in his presence when it became clear that he was heartbroken by what was happening.

          He was half a generation older than me, and he had committed himself to his priestly life under personal and public circumstances far removed from the subsequent conditions that sparked the apparent disintegration of the Jesuit Order (at least in the West). For him, it was a living martyrdom, not merely a controversial issue.

          We talked about other things.

          • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

            John at times I’m compelled as a priest to address justice. Apart from my lack of experience in academia, and your claim to inside info at Emory, there are issues that, as they stand, deserve to be addressed. One is the virtually complete intellectual shutdown by some respondents regarding anything that is perceived as criticism of Trump. Beckwith seems to be preaching to the choir, Trump supporters, even though he admittedly is not a Trump supporter. The Emory issue is a perfect scenario to address a perceived overreaction by minority students, with the intention to receive hoorahs from Trump’s supporters. You may have academic credentials on your side. I have the wisdom of diverse and longer experience.

          • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

            John I want to respond here to the “living martyrdom” of your Jesuit friend. That part, the disintegration of religious life and the parallel secularization movement in academia to the left was apparent to me. I did my doctorate on Thomas Aquinas’ ethics at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome, known popularly as the Angelicum. The demise in spirituality there was less obvious than at the Gregorian Pont U, across the Piazza from the Casa Santa Maria where I lived. An example was a doctoral dissertation by a priest friend, which speculated that moral doctrine was justifiably subject to accommodation to non Christian cultural mores, as he found in Papua. That priest once asked me “What is truth?” The U sanctioned the thesis. At the Angelicum the so called Dominican experts were far from expert except for two profs, one a non Dominican priest, and rector of the German College, and my thesis director. Many of the Dominicans especially at their college in Naples abandoned Aquinas and took to Kant. That was a difficult, and still now, incredulous state of affairs in Catholic scholarship.

    • dbrown8

      Wow. You reveal your slant. If you don’t understand the article then read again.

  • rick

    In a world where Jerry Seinfeld says that he won’t do college campuses because they’re too politically correct, why on earth, Prof Beckwith, would you choose Donald Trump to make your point about “sociopolitical hegemony?” Do you really think, like Father Peter observes, that he’s Walt Whitman? Or is your piece just a cheap way to chum for internet clicks?

  • Dave Fladlien

    Unfortunately I don’t have time to read all the comments this morning, so someone may rightly say, “If you had read my remarks…” To me though, Professor Beckwith, your article here is among the very best, the most truthful, the most accurate, that I have ever read. Thank you for writing it.

    Where is the line between freedom of expression and endangerment? In WWI the US Supreme Court did one of its all-too-rare good jobs in deciding that. In Watkins v. US (sorry, I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know the citation), the court held that the line was at the point of creation of a “clear and present danger”: if one’s action creates a clear and present danger to another, then that is “over the line” so to speak. The Trump “chalkers” here created no “clear and present danger” that I can tell from this article. Freedom of speech should, as the court held in Watkins, be restricted only when there is a clear and present danger to someone else’s safety. The fact that someone “feels” threatened doesn’t mean they actually are in any danger.

    Finally too, there is the simple fact that everyone (including me) who is not a Trump supporter must, as a matter of Christian obligation, keep in mind: if Mr. Trump is the Republican nominee, and Ms. Clinton is the Democratic nominee, then all of us who criticize “Catholics” or “Christians” who vote for pro-abortion candidates will be morally obliged to support Mr. Trump. If we’ve dug too deep a hole for ourselves with Trump hatred, we may find that kind of hard to do. And… why is hating Trump, or hating anyone for that matter, a virtue?

    • Michael DeLorme

      Donald Trump, as one pundit put it, will be my “consolation prize” if he wins the nomination. And as vigorously pro-life as I am, I’m not so single-issued that I will fail to choose the perceived lesser of two possible evils.

      Trump has been all over the map on so many issues that it’s hard to know if he really will fight for an end to abortion. He has gone slowly down in my estimation of his worthiness to be President, but not entirely.

      The one thing I remain confident of is that Donald Trump is, at bottom, a patriot. However much I may disagree with his individual policy objectives I believe he will always try and do what HE believes is the patriotic thing, what HE believes is good for the country—unlike the current Wizard-in-Chief who thinks the country is his own personal pinball machine and ever tries to drive it into permanent TILT.

  • George Gano

    Dr. BECKWITH’S disdain for Mr Trump’s views is well known and he is rightfully entitled to his opinion. The students are ALSO entitled to their opinion too. When voicing one’s OPINION one must also avoid half truths, parsing of comments, and must be intellectually honest. IE : “Mr. Trump’s harsh positions on immigration, especially on Muslim immigration” Notice – no qualifiers that Mr Trump uses – “Illegal Immigration” (He’s all for legal immigration, work permits, H1B) or “A temporary ban on Muslim Immigration until we can figure out what is going on” (like a proper vetting process). We live in a world today that has become so POLITICALLY CORRECT that we have stifled open discussion, and debate. Folks “cry wolf” and play the PC card at every turn to shut down views/opinions that do not agree with. We also are a SOUND BITE society that does not really delve into the “details”. How can one really learn to search, reason, evaluate, and form an opinion without an opposing views to investigate? Is not a Universities principle mission to educate people how to research, probe, and form conclusions? – Critical thinking. These individuals need to learn how to filter like an oyster, “thicken their skins”, and repel water like a Duck. Words and Ideas can not hurt you or have power over you UNLESS you allow it. The work of our own Church’s Councils would not have been possible if we shut down discussion and debate by fearing opposition.

  • Howard

    “Vote Trump in 2016” is an imperative statement, not a declarative one, so it cannot really be either true or false.

    • Fred

      True, but beside the point. The person who “chalked” it presumably believes that Trump has truly identified socio-political problems and that Trump’s policies will truly solve them. Those beliefs may be delusional (certainly the second one is), but simply repressing an argument does not refute it. That is the problem the post is addressing.

  • Dave

    “But here’s the problem: a “safe” environment does not inspire courage, let alone an “expression of ideas, vigorous debate, speech, dissent, and protest,” unless these happen to be consistent with the prevailing campus orthodoxy.

    As we know from experience, institutionalizing the philosophy of “safe spaces” winds up rewarding ideological conformity while empowering the most vocal and active members of the campus community to marginalize and shame those they think are responsible for a “perceived intimidation.””

    Yes. And we also know from experience that this same process of rewarding ideological conformity and closing down “non-conformist” viewpoints, like, say, Catholic doctrine on sexual morality and other matters, is running rampant in Catholic universities and schools. And in the name of freedom from “bullying,” that is exactly what we are enabling: people threaten that things will get nasty if they don’t get their way — an explosion of the concupiscible and irascible appetites — and everyone meekly caves. When the rage rises, it’s hard for administrators and faculty to know just what to do, because the rules of the game are rigged against them calling the bluff and calling the bully to responsibility. Indeed, they call such administrators making the attempts as bullies.

    How far we have strayed from education in the liberal arts and in virtues. We owe great thanks, to them and to the Lord, for those colleges and schools that are still faithful to the norms of courtesy and civil discourse, which can and sometimes should be spirited. And to those schools who honor politicians that have promoted policies and actions leading to the current demise in civil discourse on campus, we owe…nothing.

    • dbrown8

      Exactly. Compare what has happened at Catholic universities to the courageous stance taken by the President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University to these same issues. We need a Catholic university like that.

  • Sir Flatulus

    my hunch is that this has absolutely nothing to do with academic freedom or immigration or Nazis or race or offense or anything other than power, and that the person claiming offense actually rightly has perceived that attracting attention is a way to accumulate power. And President Wagner rightly also perceived that he had to frantically scramble to say the right thing lest he forfeit power. It’s a win win, as they say. I bet you dollars to doughnuts the putatively offended student is soaking up the glory even now, that he or she has acquired a local fame of sorts. And he or she is positively giddy seeing how things have gotten all stirred up. Look at how exercised we are. And Pres. Wagner is wiping the sweat off his brow . . . “dang that was a close one.” A win win. These people have luxurious lives.

    • dbrown8

      Outstanding insight. I agree.

    • Jose Alvarez

      Well said, my friend!

  • Sir Flatulus

    power has a cloak of invisibility but if we stir up enough dust we can vaguely see its outline; that’s what this kabuki theatrical display is about; “aha . . . there it is. I’m gonna get me some.”

  • DaleJ

    If a group of college students are afraid of words chalked on a sidewalk that express a political preference different from their own then the “education system” has effectively destroyed the very concept of the freedoms guaranteed by the first amendment of our Constitution.

  • lwhite

    The university is no longer a place of higher learning but an extension of both childhood and an institution of indoctrination to whatever happens to be the fads of the time.

    It certainly is not a place where the mind is enriched with Truth, beauty, and the knowledge of First and Last Things which are the only really important things for a mind to grasp.



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