There is value in both of these visions, and neither ought to be wholly discarded. To preserve a healthy learning environment, faculty members should, I think, refrain from publicly criticizing students that they teach and even grad students in their department. Their role, in those cases, is to mentor, challenge, and support. Many would learn less well if all their instructors publicly aired their mistakes.
With that caveat, I'd always choose an academic environment that operated in closer accord with the second vision, a place where facing public criticism isn't considered risky, traumatizing, and victimizing so much as normal, educational, and ultimately empowering–a crucible for one's ideas and behavior. To face public criticism is to be treated as if one's ideas, or approach to instructing undergrads, or campus activism is important enough to matter and be taken seriously.
That vision is admittedly complicated by the era of social-media pile-ons.
"Absent the mob," Millman writes, "the professor's blog post would similarly have raised few hackles; it would have been no worse a breach of etiquette than saying the same things out loud in the faculty lounge. That mob is what transformed this situation from a routine ... ivory tower spat into a dark precedent for academic freedom." Digital mobs can be awful, as I've observed on numerous occasions (some of them first hand). But universities should be loath to give Internet trolls the ability to shut down whole categories of campus discourse with the threat of nasty emails. Any criticism voiced by any academic could lead to the person they're criticizing being harassed online. But that doesn't mean the social justice movement should stop criticizing anyone who is at risk of a backlash, or that a climate scientist should refrain from naming and criticizing an instructor in the political science department who's teaching undergrads that global warning is a conspiracy designed to hand power to liberals.
Earnest criticism from the right is just as legitimate. It should proceed, though I now think that all who engage in public criticism have an obligation to avoid encouraging—and at times to discourage—digital pile-ons. As yet, the contours of that obligation are ill-defined, understood as poorly as mob "justice" itself. Regardless, public criticism is so indispensable that it should be retained in all truth-seeking institutions. Imagine an alternative history at Marquette. Say that the undergrad complained to a different professor—someone in the mathematics department—and soon after, the math professor published the following on her personal blog:
For some time, I've been reading critiques of non-discrimination policies at universities. Their critics warn that they're written in a way that could prohibit the free exchange of ideas, something core to our mission as truth-seeking academics. I haven't reached any general conclusions on that subject. But I did just learn of a specific incident here at Marquette University, where an instructor interpreted our policy in a way that worries me. An undergrad approached his philosophy instructor, Cheryl Abbate, about a time when gay marriage came up in class. In the course of their after-class chat, she told the undergraduate that some opinions, like the notion that gay marriage should not be legal, are not appropriate to express in class, because there might be gay students in the class who'd take offense at homophobia.
I'm so happy that we have hardworking grad students here at Marquette who share in the responsibility and privilege of teaching undergraduates, and I want to be clear that I appreciate Abbate's contributions, as well as her desire to create a non-discriminatory classroom environment. This post isn't meant as an attack on her value as an instructor–this addresses just one interaction of dozens she navigates every day. But it seems to me that an undergrad definitely ought to be able to express that opinion in a classroom discussion.
I wanted to raise this publicly so that Abbate has the opportunity to explain her perspective in greater detail, if she wishes–I have no doubt that she is both thoughtful and persuasive if she's doing her post-graduate work here– and because this subject strikes me as sufficiently important to warrant a broader campus conversation of the sort that I can't conduct one-on-one. I'd be grateful for feedback from other professors, whether here at Marquette or elsewhere, to see if my thinking here is at odds with my peers or in keeping with them.
Ponder that instance of a faculty member naming a grad student in a critical blog post. Should that blog post be a firing offense? I can see why Marquette University officials would want to suppress a public conversation of that sort. Open debates about controversial subjects create headaches for administrators and fund-raisers. But I think a blog post like that would spark an important exchange of ideas, and that an academia that forbids it has grown too averse to conflict.