I wrote about this fear on my blog, and while the response was mostly positive, some liberals called me paranoid, or expressed doubt about why any teacher would nix the particular texts I listed. I guarantee you that these people do not work in higher education, or if they do they are at least two decades removed from the job search. The academic job market is brutal. Teachers who are not tenured or tenure-track faculty members have no right to due process before being dismissed, and there’s a mile-long line of applicants eager to take their place. And as writer and academic Freddie DeBoer writes, they don’t even have to be formally fired ”” they can just not get rehired. In this type of environment, boat-rocking isn’t just dangerous, it’s suicidal, and so teachers limit their lessons to things they know won’t upset anybody.
This shift in student-teacher dynamic placed many of the traditional goals of higher education ”” such as having students challenge their beliefs ”” off limits. While I used to pride myself on getting students to question themselves and engage with difficult concepts and texts, I now hesitate. What if this hurts my evaluations and I don’t get tenure? How many complaints will it take before chairs and administrators begin to worry that I’m not giving our customers ”” er, students, pardon me ”” the positive experience they’re paying for? Ten? Half a dozen? Two or three?
This phenomenon has been widely discussed as of late, mostly as a means of deriding political, economic, or cultural forces writers don’t much care for. Commentators on the left and right have recently criticized the sensitivity and paranoia of today’s college students. They worry about the stifling of free speech, the implementation of unenforceable conduct codes, and a general hostility against opinions and viewpoints that could cause students so much as a hint of discomfort.