University head faces resignation calls over safe space criticism

The president of Northern Arizona University said she did not think that safe spaces ‘correlated’ with debate and academic inquiry  

April 11, 2017
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Students at Northern Arizona University have called on their president to resign after she refused to endorse safe spaces on campus.

During a question and answer forum hosted by NAU president Rita Cheng, students raised concerns over incidents on campus that they say promoted hate speech and asked the president how she planned to promote safe spaces on campus, according to local television station KPNX-TV.

Professor Cheng said she was “not sure” that she supported safe spaces.

“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 spaces,” she said.

Professor Cheng’s comments prompted a walkout and protest from students.

The university’s Student Action Coalition Society, which campaigns for “social justice on campus”, said that the president’s answers at the forum were “insufficient”.

“If she's not ready or willing to engage in these serious conversations and, more importantly, work towards solutions, then we do feel her resignation is necessary,” it said in a Facebook post.

A spokeswoman at the university told KPNX-TV that creating “segregated spaces for different groups on our campus only [leads] to misunderstanding, distrust and [reduces] the opportunity for discussion and engagement and education around diversity”.

Last year, the dean of students at the University of Chicago came under fire from students and academics after claiming that the university's “commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings”.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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