Atlantic reader Adam Needelman agrees with the sentiment of the previous reader who called Lukianoff and Haidt “grumpy old men”; he calls their essay “a lazy rehash of the same cyclical generation bashing we get every ten years.” He also sees a double standard:
The section of the essay hyperventilating about trigger warnings complains of a “chilling effect” on “teaching and pedagogy.” It fails to mention that chilling effects are incumbent on the cowardice of those being chilled. Why is it that when professors so fear criticism that they choose to compromise on their principles and job performances, it’s not discussed as being too thin-skinned, but when students fear offense, it is?
Furthermore, why is it when Jerry Seinfeld essentially says “I am a grown man and professional comedian, but I will not perform at colleges because I am worried the kids may be mean to me,” we call the kids thin-skinned, but not the man deathly afraid of criticism? Could it be because we have emotional attachment to the idea of younger people being more thin-skinned?
Haidt responds first:
Mr. Needelman asserts that what the faculty fears is being criticized. It is not. It is being brought up on charges before the university’s Equal Opportunity Commission, or some other internal body that is charged with investigating all student complaints.
Under the 2013 Department of Education revised guidelines that we describe in the article, any student who deems what a professor says to be “unwelcome” can file harassment charges. These charges must be adjudicated by some body created by the university. This adjudication forces the professor to spend dozens of hours to write defenses, sit through testimony, and respond to official emails. It is a nightmare and a time drain dropped into a busy semester.
See what happened to Laura Kipnis. This happened to me too, in a more abbreviated form. I am now gun-shy; I am afraid of offending the most sensitive student that I can imagine, and so I am now a more cautious, less spontaneous, and less interesting teacher.
Lukianoff responds at even greater length:
Being concerned about some negative trends resulting from decisions made by educators and parents over the past couple decades doesn’t sound like to me like “generation bashing,” as the reader put it. Jon and I are concerned that society is telling students that they are far more fragile than they actually are, and we believe that is not only harming their mental health, but also selling them short.
As for our “hyperventilating about trigger warnings,” our argument is that trigger warnings do not necessarily help the people they claim to help, people who suffer from PTSD, and might put professors in a position where they have to fear for their jobs if they cannot live up to the impossible task of predicting everything a student might claim is offensive and warrants a trigger warning.
He goes on to cite many examples of professors facing much more than just hurt feelings: