Barack Obama

Obama Blasts Political Correctness, 'Fragile' Students in Rutgers Speech

"Don't feel like you got to shut your ears because you're too fragile and somebody might offend your sensibilities," said Obama.


Screenshot via the White House / Youtube

President Obama strongly condemned the rising anti-intellectual streak on the right—but also on the left—in his remarks at Rutgers University's spring commencement on Sunday.

He harshly attacked the policies and rhetoric of Donald Trump (without mentioning him by name), asserting that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee's deliberate ignorance is destructive.

"That's not challenging political correctness," said Obama. "That's just not knowing what you're talking about."

But he reserved some time at the end of his speech to also criticize students who are too "fragile" to listen to people whose opinions offend them. He said it was a mistake for students to seek to disinvite speakers with whom they disagree.

"I know a couple years ago some folks on this campus got upset that Condoleezza Rice was supposed to speak at a commencement," said Obama. "I don't think it's a secret that I disagree with many of the foreign policies of Dr. Rice and the previous administration. But the notion that this community or the country would be better served by not hearing from a former secretary of state or shutting out what she had to say, I believe that is misguided."

The answer to bad speech is more speech, Obama continued.

"If you disagree with somebody, bring them in and ask them tough questions," he said. "Hold their feet to the fire, make them defend their positions. If somebody's got a bad or offensive idea, prove it wrong. Engage it, debate it, stand up for what you believe in. Don't be scared to take somebody on. Don't feel like you got to shut your ears because you're too fragile and somebody might offend your sensibilities. Go after them if they're not making any sense. Use your logic and reason and words, and by doing so you'll strengthen your own position. And you'll hone your arguments and maybe you'll learn something and realize maybe you don't know everything. You may have a new understanding, not only of what your opponents believe but what of you belie. Either way, you win."

The speech provides yet more evidence that Obama is a genuine proponent of free speech on campus, although his administration's policies have not always reflected this stated commitment.

But no matter whether Hillary Clinton or Trump win the 2016 election, the next President of the United States is likely to be a more dangerous enemy of the First Amendment than the current one.

Watch Obama's Rutgers speech below: