Campus Free Speech

Trigger Warnings a Threat to Academic Freedom, Says AAUP


Moby Dick
Wikimedia Commons

The American Association of University Professors came out strongly against trigger warnings in the classroom, calling them "a current threat to academic freedom."

The AAUP's statement firmly denounces mandatory use of trigger warnings. Administrators must not require teachers to "warn" students about potentially objectionable material, the organization wrote:

The presumption that students need to be protected rather than challenged in a classroom is at once infantilizing and anti-intellectual.  It makes comfort a higher priority than intellectual engagement and… it singles out politically controversial topics like sex, race, class, capitalism, and colonialism for attention.  Indeed, if such topics are associated with triggers, correctly or not, they are likely to be marginalized if not avoided altogether by faculty who fear complaints for offending or discomforting some of their students.  Although all faculty are affected by potential charges of this kind, non-tenured and contingent faculty are particularly at risk.  In this way the demand for trigger warnings creates a repressive, "chilly climate" for critical thinking in the classroom.

The statement clarifies that professors may freely choose to account for their students' sensibilities if they wish, but should not feel required to do so. Even so, voluntary use of trigger warnings may prove "counterproductive to the educational experience," according to the AAUP:

There are reasons, however, for concern that even voluntary use of trigger warnings included on syllabi may be counterproductive to the educational experience.   Such trigger warnings conflate exceptional individual experience of trauma with the anticipation of trauma for an entire group, and assume that individuals will respond negatively to certain content.  A trigger warning might lead a student to simply not read an assignment or it might elicit a response from students they otherwise would not have had, focusing them on one aspect of a text and thus precluding other reactions.

The full statement is a praiseworthy defense of academic freedom and unrestricted speech in higher education. Kudos to the AAUP for standing up for its members' rights.

Hat tip: The Huffington Post


NEXT: Watch Each of the Last Four U.S. Presidents Announce That We're Bombing Iraq

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Let me get this straight: free speech for professors = totally cool. Free speech for students (especially non-proggie students) = dangerous and bad.

    1. Watch it there, KK, you are looking at an “F.”

    2. Basically. I remember my first western-civ class my freshman year. Our professor had us write down some info on notecards, things like books that influenced us, favorite band, that type of thing. I put Anthem on mine and was told by my professor that I would grow out of that phase eventually.

      1. Oddly enough, the most openly left wing teacher I had in high school was the same one that introduced me to Ayn Rand by doing The Fountainhead as one of the books in class.

      2. It’s funny how they rely on a standard-issue appeal to ridicule. If I didn’t know any better, I’d almost start to think that they didn’t have any real arguments.

      3. I’m still waiting to “grow out of” Atlas Shrugged. Hell, I’m still waiting to “grow out of” Time Enough for Love.

    3. “Let me get this straight: free speech for professors = totally cool. Free speech for students (especially non-proggie students) = dangerous and bad.”

      A little research shows me that the AAUP is against Speech Codes.…..eech-codes

      They also seem to have been pretty consistently against Academic boycotts.

      So it appears that this group (which I had never heard of) is fairly consistent.

      1. “So it appears that this group (which I had never heard of) is fairly consistent.”

        Consistent and unheard of because largely powerless.

        1. They are always wanting more unionization in the universities too. Guess they have a deathwish?

    4. Well it does show how many don’t care about the loss of liberty until it directly affects them personally.

      Regardless, good on em.

  2. Forget trigger warnings–academia’s become a threat to academic freedom. “Trigger warnings” and the latest fashionable expression of these intellectual cripples, “privilege,” are merely symptoms of functional institutional rot.

  3. A slice of hope, thanks Robby!

    Oh, and that is ALT-TEXT GOLD, BABY!

  4. The funny thing is that if this stuff is left unchecked, “academia” will bowdlerize itself soon enough (it’s actually been doing this to itself for a while now), and something less retarded will rise to take its place.

    Let the administrators turn all their classes into useless junk. It will just expose the higher education scam sooner.

    1. One of the Slate/Salon set accidentally almost stumbled upon the idea that a liberal arts education could be had entirely without the university experience. I listen to the Great Courses — mostly on philosophy, literature, and other humanities — on my morning commute. It doesn’t help my job one bit, but I’m not doing it to be a better drone. It seems like some sort of stoa or other online forum for people interested in educating themselves is already here but unevenly distributed. I expect the distribution to be more universal within 5 years.

      1. I’ve done a couple of MOOCs. You want to know something that most professors hate? MOOCs. Well, really any sort of online education.

        1. Indeed.

          I have a friend who works at a Big Ten school, helping get classes online – he says there are three types he runs into in the professoriate: too old, have tenure and don’t care; fear and loathe and resist change; willing to adapt so as not to die.

          You get one guess which group is the smallest.

    2. “and something less retarded will rise to take its place.”

      Citation needed.

  5. There was a time when we thought education was intended to prepare students for life. Well life does not come with trigger warnings, and shielding students from the trauma of issues involving sex, racism, class, or other academic boogey-boos not only defeats an important purpose of education, but reaffirms every sexist, racist, and classist stereotype these people claim to eschew.

    1. Where’s the trigger warning on that comment?

    2. Education is increasingly populated by those who, like Amanda Marcotte, have never had a real job and think the entire world can be controlled and regulated like a University campus if they just hit it hard enough.

      1. Does Amanda Marcotte work for an educational institution? I thought she made a living blogging and/or writing for Slate.

        1. Marcotte makes a living? I assumed she was sponging off her parents like most leftards.


        2. No, but she’s never had a real job and is a major proponent of controlling “uncomfortable” speech in education.

        3. Everything related to Amanda Marcotte needs to have a trigger warning.

      2. Education has never not been populated by those who have never had a real job. If anything, that’s less true now than it ever has been.

        This kind of thing is much more about the students than the teachers. Even when I was teaching college 15 years ago, there weren’t any official rules in place about what you could and couldn’t talk about in class, but you had to be very, very careful lest some spoiled brat go complain to the department about having been made uncomfortable by what the teacher and the other students were saying.

        It’s part of the general trend of demonizing certain forms of speech and certain points of view and making hearing opinions you don’t agree with legally actionable, combined with a sense that everyone has a “right” to a college degree, making the college classroom a de facto public space.

        Professors have always been against this sort of thing, by and large, but paranoid administrators are the ones who set policy.

        1. When I was in HIGH SCHOOL, in an Advanced American Lit class, the teacher allowed a class wide conversation ensue in which it was pretty much myself against the rest of the class, with a few “he’s entitled to his wrong opinion” folk on my side, as far as it went. The subject was my atheism. It was a formative event in my life. If a HIGH SCHOOL senior can debate an entire class, then I’d think the average collegian should be able to participate in provocative discussions. Of course this was almost 30 years ago and I don’t think the cupcakes are being baked the same way today.

    3. Nor does life come with classes carefully selected to give the illusion of diversity while avoiding anything resembling viewpoint diversity.

  6. A trigger warning just would make me want to read it.

  7. So the Union of Political Correctness Enforcing Grand Inquisitors is worried about threats to academic freedom.

    Sometimes I think we’re living in a TV reality show co-produced by Franz Kafka and George Orwell.

    1. Is the AAUP usually not for academic freedom or for political correctness?

      1. The AAUP is against Speech Codes:…..eech-codes

      2. The professors pretty much whoop for political correctness, irrespective of what their organization says. There would not be the number of Reason reports of campus PC thought control if the professoriate was not solidly behind said control.

  8. class, capitalism, and colonialism

    welfare dependency, socialism, and fascism…

  9. The presumption that students need to be protected rather than challenged in a classroom is at once infantilizing and anti-intellectual.

    So… PERFECT!

    1. Agreed, well said!

      Now, they just need to take that to heart and remind themselves that we allow the Nazis to march through Skokie not to please the Nazis, but to protect Galileo’s right to state that the Earth orbits the Sun.

  10. To steal a line from Stephen Fry: “‘I’m offended’ doesn’t actually mean anything. It’s just a whine.” So, let’s institutionalize whininess as a legitimate means of discourse.

  11. The correct response to anyone bitching that they want a “trigger warning” is “fuck you, you’re not entitled to bubble-wrap the world, even if you have been raped, traumatized, fat shamed, slut shamed, molested, blown to pieces, taunted, bullied, or raised by helicopter parents.”

    This can of course be shortened to “fuck you”, if you don’t have the time for the full, formal rejection.


    1. THIS. All of it. That is all.

  12. “The presumption that students need to be protected rather than challenged in a classroom is at once infantilizing and anti-intellectual.”

    Right. We WERE talking about ‘suburban millenials’, buddy. Have you even seen Upworthy?

  13. We’re officially a nation of retards.

  14. Better Alt Text…

    Trigger warning: Graphic depictions of plus sized mammalians swallowing copious amounts of seamen

    1. I need a trigger warning on that trigger warning!

  15. This used to be covered by a blanket policy calling for common courtesy and good taste.

  16. That capitalism is listed amongst the other so-called “controversial topics” illustrates how far gone the academy already is.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.