posted at 3:01 pm on March 14, 2017 by John Sexton
The Brookings Institution has put together an interesting analysis of colleges where students have attempted to shut down or shout down speakers. Using some data gathered by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Brookings made a chart showing a correlation between students from wealthier homes and the tendency to disinvite speakers. Here’s Brookings’ description of the chart:
In the figure below, we plot every university in America based on the proportion of students from families with incomes in the top quintile (vertical axis) and from the bottom quintile (horizontal). Marked in red are the “disinvitation colleges” described above. The pattern is clear: the more economically exclusive the institution, the more likely the students have attempted to hinder free speech.
Note that this is not measuring student performance on standardized testing or grades. This is purely looking at family income of the students attending these schools. It’s the most privileged kids who are most likely to be arguing for silencing views that aren’t sufficiently progressive.
There is an obvious irony here. The students shouting down speakers and demanding safe spaces are more likely to come from wealthy homes. And don’t suggest these students have rejected privilege because they know it is bad from their own first-hand experience. Remember, these are young adults who are currently enrolled in schools that cater to the wealthy. They aren’t criticizing privilege after having abandoned it. They are living it. That’s certainly the case at Middlebury College where, as I noted last week, tuition (plus room and board) costs about $65,000 a year.
Looking at this chart, you have to wonder if some of what is driving this campus shout down behavior on the left is simply guilt. No doubt these students really believe the things they say they do about income inequality, racism and intersectionality. And yet, many of them must be aware that, by their own lights, they are part of the problem. What is needed then is some form of progressive absolution, preferably one where someone else pays for their sins. That would certainly help explain the demi-religious character of these protests. These students aren’t just making a point, they are driving out a scapegoat.
No doubt there are many progressive students at other colleges, the ones that don’t cater exclusively to the wealthiest homes. Perhaps those schools can’t afford as many controversial speakers or perhaps the students there don’t feel the same need to prove their bona fides as the progressives from wealthier backgrounds do.