Brown University President Christina Paxson is to be commended for her declaration that universities need to guarantee the fundamental right of freedom of expression [op-ed, Sept. 6]. There can be no advancements in knowledge or social progress without the guarantee of such freedom.
Her argument that some students need spaces where they can retreat to find aid and comfort is compelling. It is a basic human inclination to seek out such spaces amid the rough and tumble of existence.
The problem lies in her and others’ use of the term “safe space.” Ms. Paxson made an argument for a strong network of voluntary associations, which are the lifeblood of any pluralistic civil society. Referring to such associations as “safe spaces” has the regrettable consequence of insinuating that the public sphere of the university is an inherently dangerous space.
The public sphere is fraught with contention and controversy. This is exactly as it should be. People can enter into this sphere or not, and choose to express their views or not, or retreat to voluntary associations for aid and comfort. Universities should never assume that all students need or even want to be made safe against the sometimes stormy and upsetting vicissitudes of the free interchange of ideas. Some do, but my experience tells me that most do not.
Thomas Cushman, Wellesley, Mass.
The writer is director of the Freedom Project at Wellesley College.