Obama scolds 'coddled' liberal college students

Peter Fricke
Managing Editor

  • Obama made his remarks while speaking at a town hall meeting at a high school in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • The president declared that the purpose of college is not just to teach skills but to also broaden students' horizons.
  • President Obama took a stand against the ongoing trend of protecting students from opinions with which they disagree, saying he doesn’t think they need to be “coddled.”

    Obama made the remarks during a town hall meeting Monday at North High School in Des Moines, Iowa, and in the process effectively offered vindication to conservatives who have spoken out against political correctness and so-called “safe spaces.”

    "[I]t’s not just sometimes folks who are mad that colleges are too liberal that have a problem."   

    Responding to a question from a local high school student about whether he would support a proposal to cut government funding for politically biased colleges, Obama asserted that giving government the power to decide what should be taught “runs contrary to everything we believe about education.

    “The purpose of college is not just … to transmit skills,” he said, but also to broaden students’ horizons, make them better citizens, teach them to evaluate information, and generally to help them succeed in the real world.

    “The way to do that is to create a space where a lot of ideas are presented and collide, and people are having arguments, and people are testing each other’s theories,” Obama said, “and over time, people learn from each other, because they’re getting out of their own narrow point of view and having a broader point of view.”

    Reflecting on his own experience in college, where “suddenly there were some folks who didn’t think at all like me,” Obama noted that while he was sometimes infuriated by those who disagreed with him, those interactions ultimately benefitted him by testing his assumptions.

    “Now, one thing I do want to point out is it’s not just sometimes folks who are mad that colleges are too liberal that have a problem,” Obama said. “Sometimes there are folks on college campuses who are liberal and maybe even agree with me on a bunch of issues who sometimes aren’t listening to the other side. And that’s a problem, too.”

    Citing recent conversations with a friend about the subject, the president related hearing stories about campuses “where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative,” and where students “don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans, or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women.

    “And I’ve got to tell you, I don’t agree with that either,” Obama said. “I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of views [sic].”

    He then asked Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was also in attendance, for his thoughts, to which Duncan succinctly responded, “Amen.”

    Obama’s comments would seem to place him squarely on the side of comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who ignited a national debate earlier this year when he complained that college students are no longer able to appreciate comedy because they are so easily offended.

    However, his position also puts him at odds with another comedian, the reliably progressive Sarah Silverman, who expressed a contrasting opinion in an interview with Vanity Fair Monday.

    While acknowledging that, “you can’t just decide on your material based on not offending anyone,” Silverman also contended that, “I do think it’s important, as a comedian, as a human, to change with the times.”

    Silverman offered a personal example to illustrate her point, saying that she stopped using “gay” as a synonym for “lame” when she realized that, “I have become the guy from 50 years ago who said, ‘I say colored, I have colored friends’.”

    She concluded with an appeal to “listen to the college-aged,” who she argued are “pretty much always on the right side of history.”

    That assertion may come as a surprise to President Obama, who, conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg notes, has used the term in reference to everything from foreign policy to gay marriage.

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    Peter Fricke

    Peter Fricke

    Managing Editor

    Peter Fricke is the Managing Editor for Campus Reform. He has previously worked on state and national political campaigns, and was a reporter for The Daily Caller News Foundation. His email address is pfricke@campusreform.org.

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