Aggrieved students find books dangerous; neoliberal administrators say they’re useless. I’d take the former any day
Corey Robin is a political science department chair from New York. He finds that bottom-line focused higher education administrators to be a greater risk to an educated society than aggrieved students. He has a provocative essay in Salon “Higher Education’s Real Censors What We’re Missing in the Debate over Trigger Warnings and Coddled Students.” In effect he is asking, what is worse, a student worried about something that challenges their own self-concept and is able to raise a ruckus in the press, or an administrator who routinely cancels classes because of low enrolment? Which one, the student or the administrator, cuts off more conversation about what really matters? The student at least stimulates a conversation, and challenges others to read the disliked book. The administrator cuts reading off every time a class is cancelled because of low enrollment.
Robin’s point is that the educated mind is at greater risk from budget cuts, than it is from the occasional ruckus about “trigger warnings” on syllabi, or invitation for controversial speakers to come to campus.
As part of his essay he includes a great quote from Kafka about the power of books—if they are read:
Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow on the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy, as you put it? Good God, we’d be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, at a pinch, also write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe.