What Snowflakes Get Right: Free Speech, Truth, and Equality on Campus
With Ulrich Baer
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.
Facilitator: Ulrich Baer is a professor of German and Comparative Literature at New York University. From 2012 until 2018, he served as NYU’s Vice Provost for Faculty, Arts, Humanities, and Diversity. From 2007 until 2012, he served as Vice Provost for Globalization and Multicultural Affairs, overseeing NYU’s network of Global Academic Sites around the world.
Ulrich received his B.A. from Harvard in 1991, and his Ph.D. from Yale in Comparative Literature in 1995. A widely published author, editor, and translator, he is an expert on poetry, literary theory, and photography, and has published extensively on these and other topics. He has lectured around the world on higher education, and on diversity as a means to institutional excellence. He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, NYU’s Golden Dozen Teaching Award (twice), a Getty Research Fellowship, a DAAD fellowship, and an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship. He regularly teaches a freshmen seminar on globalization, as well as undergraduate and graduate courses in photography, poetry, and other areas.
Among his books are What Snowflakes Get Right: Free Speech, Truth, and Equality on Campus; The Dark Interval: Rilke’s Letters on Loss, Grief and Transformation (translator and editor; forthcoming 2018); Rainer Maria Rilke: Prosa (editor); We Are but A Moment; The Rilke Alphabet; Beggar’s Chicken: Stories from Shanghai; Hannah Arendt Between the Disciplines (co-editor with Amir Eshel); The Claims of Literature: A Shoshana Felman Reader (co-editor with Emily Sun and Eyal Peretz); Rainer Maria Rilke: Letters on Life (translator and editor); Spectral Evidence: The Photography of Trauma; 110 Stories: New York Writes After September 11 (editor); “Nobody Bears Witness for the Witness”: Testimony and Historical Memory after the Shoah (editor); Remnants of Song: Trauma and the Experience of Modernity in Charles Baudelaire and Paul Celan.
Readings: New York Times article. Book: What Snowflakes Get Right: Free Speech, Truth, and Equality on Campus.
Date: Saturday, October 12, 10am-2pm
Cost: Pay-what-you-can, up to $90
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