Cheng has maintained that students need to accept that colleges are placed for open dialogue and exposure to a wide range of speech from the inspiring to the insulting. She specifically refused to endorse the idea of “safe spaces”:
As a university professor, I’m not sure I have any support at all for safe space. I think that you as a student have to develop the skills to be successful in this world and that we need to provide you with the opportunity for discourse and debate and dialogue and academic inquiry, and I’m not sure that that is correlated with the notion of safe space as I’ve seen that.
Leading this charge is the university’s Student Action Coalition which insisted that Cheng could only support free speech by curtailing it:
How can you promote safe spaces if you don’t take action in situations of injustice such as last week when we had the preacher on campus and he was promoting hate speech against marginalized students? As well as, not speaking out against racist incidents like blackface two months ago by student workers followed by no reform and no repercussions?
The students marched out of the meeting with Cheng irate over her refusal to curtail free speech or create spaces that protect students by barring spaces in certain areas. What is astonishing is that students now rally around the concept of limiting speech as a noble cause and treat unregulated speech as the danger itself. Most concerning is the doublespeak of students and faculty that true free speech means less speech.
The position of the students has been fueled by faculty teaching that free speech must be curtailed as a threat to diversity and equality. It is a position that is not shared by most faculty that I have spoken with at universities, where there is rising alarm over the anti-speech values being taught to students. However, faculty are often intimidated by the threat of being called insensitive or guilty of “microaggressions”, an ill-defined catchall term being used around the country to justify speech regulation. Worse yet, some of these protests raises concerns that there is a form of mob rule as opposed to faculty control on our academic institutions.
Faculty and alumni at Northern Arizona now have to make a choice. They can take their school into this growing academic abyss of speech controls or they can rally around their president. If Cheng is removed, it is a victory that will come at a hefty price for this institution.