I think if I were Jewish – which, come to think of it, I am – I’d be far more comforted being assured the Holocaust didn’t happen than being constantly reminded that it did. So I’m not sure how so many of my co-religionists get off claiming that Holocaust denial makes them feel uncomfortable. But hey, who am I to tell other people how to feel?
Still, if making a listener uncomfortable were reason enough to hold one’s tongue, I’m not sure what would remain for a philosophy professor to teach. Plato’s Euthyphro has got to be upsetting to students who thought God was the ultimate authority on right and wrong. Hume’s skepticism about induction, once fully understood, has thrown some science students into a veritable existential crisis. And telling a First Nations student that slavery had been ubiquitous all across the Americas long before its ‘introduction’ in 1619, will no doubt take a good measure of high dudgeon out of her anti-settler rhetoric. So when a student complains about being made uncomfortable, I take that as confirmation that I’m doing my job.
That she feels unsafe, by contrast – assuming she really does – is another matter. If someone shouted or wrote, “Kill all the Jews!”, I think I might feel a tad insecure. But not if he raised doubts about the historicity of the Holocaust. Do native Americans feel unsafe being told that they brought their black slaves with them on the Trail of Tears? And yet some of my co-religionists claim that any revision to the Spielberg remake of the Holocaust makes them feel unsafe. Worse yet, even more of them claim that any criticism of the State of Israel is anti-Semitism. Likewise any expression of solidarity with the Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
I call bullshit. Students and faculty have a right to be safe. They do not have a right to feel safe. If they did, then others would be under a correlative duty to pander to their psychoses.
University administrators, keen to signal their wokeness to some of their stakeholders, have taken to doing an end-run around academic freedom by appealing to the right of faculty and students to feel comfortable and safe. This is a feint, and I suspect everyone knows it. If it’s been decided that academic freedom is no longer a desideratum worth protecting, let’s be upfront about it. Speaking with forked tongue was unseemly then and it’s unseemly now.