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Free Speech

Desperate students to college administrators: stop being paternalistic babysitters

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A version of this article was previously published on the Learn Liberty blog.

If you ask the average person what the most insufferable public bodies are, you’ll get a variety of responses.

Some people say UPS is a redundant and inefficient body. Others may point to unions that cause power outages, or even the massive, self-serving bureaucracy that causes healthcare to be scarce and expensive.

But one of the less talked about institutions is higher education. Sure, we know teachers’ unions cause all kinds of arduous problems, but we expect that to clear up by the time our children are adults. 

Not so. The curse of self-serving and stale bureaucratic bodies goes right to the core of any well-developed public institution, and education, the one that is responsible for shaping the minds of the youth, is no exception. 

Back in the 1960s, Mary Beth Tinker fought for her right to protest the Vietnam war by wearing a black armband to her high school, and the tradition of fighting back against the busybodies that think their role extends beyond education is still alive today.

Dartmouth students took a stand against paternalistic college administrators

Students at Dartmouth College became torchbearers of the kind of action Tinker embodied. Leaders of the school’s student government delivered a scathing petition, signed by 1,200 students, demanding the administration return to its mission of educating — not policing — students.

Dartmouth’s administrative staff has grown by thousands in recent decades to 3,500 today — despite faculty layoffs. According to the petitioners, this massive bureaucracy not only inflates their tuition costs, it takes an active role in censoring their speech. 

The petition elaborates how, buoyed by the idea that the College should support exclusionary “safe spaces” that act as a barrier against uncomfortable ideas, administrators have assumed the role of paternalistic babysitters.

Education should be about teaching how to think, not what to think

Do the Dartmouth students have a case? In the video below, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Director Catherine Sevcenko argues that people like the student government leaders at Dartmouth are part of a noble tradition of people standing up to assert their right to express themselves.

The job of educators is to teach students how to think, not what to think. There is no place for colleges to act as students’ parents, to socialize them, and, most importantly, not morph them into ideological warriors for whatever political movement is fashionable at the time.

Updated by Joseph Simnett

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.

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