Safe space opponents not 'idiots,' just 'wrong,' NU prez concedes

The president of Northwestern University admits it was a “mistake” to call opponents of safe spaces and trigger warnings “lunatics” and “idiots,” but only from a PR perspective.

“Did I mean to call people idiots? I certainly didn’t,” Schapiro told The Daily Northwestern. “It was a mistake because…it made it easier for people who don’t believe in the existence of microaggressions.”

During his convocation speech in September, Schapiro said that he remembers every microaggression he has experienced, asserting that they “cut you to the core,” and that those who deny their existence are “idiots.”

[RELATED: Northwestern prez: only ‘lunatics,’ ‘idiots’ oppose safe spaces]

Touching on trigger warnings later in the speech, he said, “If they say shouldn’t be warned to prepare yourself psychologically for [traumatic content], that somehow that’s coddling, those people are lunatics.”

The remarks prompted a backlash in certain quarters, including a Washington Post op-ed in which Antonin Scalia Law School professor David Bernstein excoriates Schapiro for failing to meet “even the minimum standards of appropriate discourse,” and even suggests that “a resignation would not be disproportionate.”

[RELATED: Occidental College president ‘happy to resign’ over student demands]

“Here, it seems to me, [university presidents] have one primary responsibility—to model the best values of a liberal (in the broad sense of the term) education by being honest, civil, and respectful of dissent,” Bernstein argues. “Indeed, if university presidents can’t adhere to these values, they should either not be presidents or keep their mouths shut.”

But Schapiro is insisting that he merely chose the wrong words, telling The Daily Northwestern that instead of calling them lunatics and idiots, he should have said that those who believe safe spaces violate the First Amendment are “wrong,” that questioning microaggressions is “inconceivable,” and that the belief that trigger warnings reduce faculty autonomy is “misdirected.”

“It’s inconceivable to me that anyone...could ever look at their past and say that they weren’t deeply damaged by when they thought they were in a comfortable group and among supportive people, and all of a sudden said something that devastating to them,” he said.

Schapiro then sought to excuse his choice of language for the convocation by pointing out that most university presidents use speechwriters for such addresses, and that he did not even prepare any remarks for that particular speech.

Moreover, he maintained that the main point of the speech was not to insult those who oppose safe spaces, but rather to explain how “We all have safe spaces.”

Referring to his synagogue, his golf course, and the Institute of Policy Research as his own personal safe spaces, Schapiro observed that “Nobody ever follows me around the [golf] course and says, ‘Oh, you’re too politically correct. You’re coddling students.’”

Schapiro did not respond to a request for comment from Campus Reform in time for publication.

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