Opinion: Criticism of College Culture Is Not Higher Education Rejection – NBCNews.com

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IMAGE: University of Missouri President Resigns As Protests Grow over Racism

Jonathan Butler (c), a University of Missouri grad student who did a 7 day hunger strike listens along with founding members of the campus group, Concerned Student 1950, during a forum speaking to students on the campus of University of Missouri – Columbia on November 9, 2015 in Columbia, Missouri. Michael B. Thomas / Getty Images

Also in 2015, protests at the University of Missouri over charges of mishandling of racial incidents on campus spiraled out of control into a full-on tent city on campus. In a culminating incident, a communications professor led the charge to keep the news media from reporting on the emerging violence. She called for “some muscle” to bully a student reporter away from the scene.

Add onto this pile two years of stories about trigger warnings, safe spaces, the shouting down (and physical attacks, in some cases) of conservative speakers on campus, and a backlash that has ushered in racist and anti-Semitic graffiti, even swastikas and lynching nooses.

Is it any wonder that parents of either political persuasion would think that college campuses are no place for their kids?

The images and news stories are so over-the-top they’re even lampooned in liberal bastions such as satirical TV shows. Episode 2 of the sixth season of HBO’s “Veep” has former President Selina Meyer arriving at a Smith College where the students hurl expletives at her and snap their fingers. One young woman yells, “Don’t talk over me!” — a direct reference to the Yale “Shrieking Girl” who shouted down an administrator who had objected to a memo about appropriate Halloween costumes.

The fact of the matter is that the roiling war between ultra-sensitive college students demanding special treatment for their political views on one end of the ideological spectrum and truly racist, insensitive and intolerant students on the other has made college campuses unwelcoming to many of those who fall in the middle.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse, which tracks college enrollments, the number of students in colleges and universities has now dropped for five straight years, and this year 81,000 fewer high school graduates nationwide are heading to higher-education institutions.

Lower birthrates and increasingly plentiful jobs are mostly to blame, but the tone of campus politics is surely a factor. For instance, the University of Missouri has seen freshman enrollment at its Columbia campus dip by more than 35 percent in the two years since the protests.

People of all ideological bents revere higher education — it is the context in which it’s delivered that is increasingly looked upon skeptically.

We should focus on this context rather than the exacerbating partisan divisions by painting those with the concerns about free speech, free thought, basic order, and respect on campus as troglodytes who don’t value learning.

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