What Snowflakes Get Right: Free Speech, Truth, and Equality on Campus

ISBN : 9780190054199

Ulrich Baer
176 ページ
140 x 140 mm

Angry debates about polarizing speakers have roiled college campuses. Conservatives accuse universities of muzzling unpopular opinions, betraying their values of open inquiry; students sympathetic to the left openly advocate against completely unregulated speech, asking for "safe spaces" and protection against visiting speakers and even curricula they feel disrespects them. Some even call these students "snowflakes"-too fragile to be exposed to opinions and ideas that challenge their worldviews. How might universities resolve these debates about free speech, which pit their students' welfare against the university's commitment to free inquiry and open debate? Ulrich Baer here provides a new way of looking at this dilemma. He explains how the current dichotomy is false and is not really about the feelings of offended students, or protecting an open marketplace of ideas. Rather, what is really at stake is our democracy's commitment to equality, and the university's critical role as an arbiter of truth. He shows how and why free speech has become the rallying cry that forges an otherwise uneasy alliance of liberals and ultra-conservatives, and why this First Amendment absolutism is untenable in law and society in general. He draws on law, philosophy, and his extensive experience as a university administrator to show that the lens of equality can resolve this impasse, and can allow the university to serve as a model for democracy that upholds both truth and equality as its founding principles.


Preface: Disentangling the Free Speech Debate in the Age of Trump, the Alt-Right, and Campus Protests
1. Free Speech and the University: What is at Stake
2. From Skokie to Charlottesville: Tolerating Vs. Condoning Speech
3. Free Speech and Equality: Frederick Douglass and Our Country's Inalienable Truths
4. What 'Snowflakes' Get Right About Free Speech
5. An Unholy Alliance: Why Liberals and Conservatives Agree when Defending Free Speech in the University, but Shouldn't
6. The Slippery Slope, or Who is to Draw the Line?
7. Speech on Campus: How It Can Work


Ulrich Baer was educated at Harvard and Yale and has been awarded John Simon Guggenheim, DAAD, Paul Getty, and Alexander von Humboldt Fellowships. He is University Professor at New York University, and has published, among other books, Remnants of Song: The Experience of Modernity in Charles Baudelaire and Paul Celan, Spectral Evidence: The Photography of Trauma, The Rilke Alphabet, 110 Stories: New York Writes After September 11(editor), Beggar's Chicken: Stories from Shanghai, We Are But a Moment, and, as editor and translator, The Dark Interval: Rilke's Letters on Loss, Grief and Transformation, and Rainer Maria Rilke: Letters on Life (Modern Library). His podcast, Think About It, is devoted to in-depth conversations on powerful ideas, including freedom of speech, and language that changes the world. He lives in New York City.