MAC GHLIONN: Dr. Phil laments higher education’s descent into madness

During a recent, wide-ranging interview with Bill Maher, Dr. Phil, a man known for remaining neutral on hot-button cultural issues, sounded the alarm on the woke agenda being pushed on college campuses. Maher, a man never known for remaining neutral on hot button cultural issues, was quick to agree, lamenting the "insanity" that now consumes so many places of higher education. 

Dr. Phil, who recently ended his 21-year reign as the indisputable king of daytime TV, repeatedly emphasized the dangers posed by the "indoctrination" taking place on college campuses. 

Before, said the clinical psychologist, when interviewing two potential candidates for a job, one with a degree and one without a degree, he always hired the candidate with the degree, simply because he knew they could meet deadlines and, in his own words, "work with assholes." Those days, added the 72-year-old, are long gone. Most Americans agree. Again, Maher was quick to side with Dr. Phil, criticizing the rise in "bullshit" degrees being offered by third-level institutions. 

In 2018, the author David Graeber wrote Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, a compelling book that examined the rise of meaningless jobs and the societal harm that they were causing - economically, psychologically, and spiritually. Has there ever been a better time for a follow-up book, one that discusses America’s new obsession with nonsensical degrees? After all, the demand for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion degrees (DEI) continues to grow. The same goes for degrees in social justice and Critical Race Theory (CRT). 

In addition to the scourge of useless degrees, Dr. Phil suggested that college students have become too "thin-skinned," too unwilling to listen to differing opinions. Again, he’s right. If anything, Dr. Phil is understating the problem.  

On college campuses, free speech and open debate are dying the most brutal of deaths. According to a 2022 report from the Knight Foundation, 84 percent of college students surveyed said free speech rights were a critical part of American democracy. At the same time, however, only 47 percent said that their freedom of speech rights were in any way secure. In 2016, 73 percent of respondents said their free speech rights were secure.

A more recent report by researchers at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) paints an even more disturbing picture. According to the authors, as the number of women entering college continues to climb, levels of free speech on campuses continue to nosedive. Moreover, when it comes to the benefits of free speech versus the dangers of hate speech, undeniable demographic differences emerge. In short, significantly more female than male students and faculty members favor protections against hate speech, "even if this restricts speech not intended to be hateful." Females are also more likely to support restricting speech only where words are intended to be hateful. Interestingly, according to the report, significantly more male than female faculty members support "restricting speech only where words are certain to incite violence."

Females, we’re constantly told, are more rational than males. They’re also considerably more tolerant. As is clear to see, on college campuses, this simply isn’t the case. This is not to attack females; this is to point out the fact that 60 percent of college students are female. At the same time, free speech on college campuses has never experienced such severe pushback.

As the aforementioned Knight Foundation has shown, 59 percent of women believe that the promotion of a more inclusive society is more important than the preservation of free speech rights. Some 71 percent of men think the opposite is true.

Cory Clark, a psychologist who has written about the gender gap in censorship support, told me that "women support more censorship of various kinds of sexual and violent content and content perceived as hateful or otherwise offensive to minorities." She added that, more often than not, the desire to censor comes from a place of genuine concern, because women tend to be "more egalitarian and more averse to harm" than men. They have "more empathy and a stronger desire to protect others they perceive as vulnerable," added Dr. Clark.

Although this may be true, widespread censorship, be it motivated by pure or impure impulses, is incompatible with the original purpose of higher education: the pursuit of truth and the promotion of open, honest debates.

Dr. Phil would probably agree.

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