An Academic Case for Safe Spaces

Dave Rubin, Michael Munger,

Release Date
August 14, 2017


Free Speech Rights

Prof. Mike Munger  supports safe spaces on campus — but no one should be “safe” from hearing ideas they disagree with across the whole school.

  1. In praise of safe spaces on campus (blog post): To learn more about Prof. Munger’s argument for safe spaces, check out this article he wrote for Learn Liberty. 
  2. CLIP: Van Jones on safe spaces on college campuses (video): Van Jones argues against safe spaces on college campuses. 
  3. Free Speech on Campus (video series): Prof. Laura Kipnis discusses issues threatening free speech on college campuses in this video series. 

Michael Munger: I have an odd view probably. I’m a big fan of safe spaces.
Dave Rubin: Yeah. So you wrote. . . I wanted to ask you about it. So you wrote a piece on Learn Liberty in defense of safe spaces, which as I read it, you parse it to a point that actually makes some sense to me because I’m not a safe space guy.
Michael Munger: Sure.
Dave Rubin: So take it away.
Michael Munger: Well, it’s an attempt at Judo, obviously. I’m using safe space in a way where people who are in favor of safe spaces, they go, “Yeah, yeah. Wait. What?”
Dave Rubin: Right. So you kind of flip it. So can you explain that a little bit?
Michael Munger: To me the main principle universities are operating on is not freedom of speech where you can say anything you want. But academic freedom which means that you can go off into little groups and be insulated from people that you disagree with so you can work on something. So the political scientists are working on something in a particular way.
Dave Rubin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Michael Munger: Sociology’s working on something in a particular way. We have communities of scholars that work on things and in our talks there’s a bunch of things that are shared premises, shared assumptions. And we’re going to try to advance without consequently having to confront all of the other possible ways of thinking about this.
Dave Rubin: Right. So you’re describing that as a safe space, but I feel like that’s not exactly what … Like I don’t know that many people would argue that that isn’t okay. Right? Even the people that are for safe spaces.
Michael Munger: Then we can go on to raise the question. Van Jones has this amazing video where he makes exactly the right argument, I think.
Van Jones: You are a kind of liberalism that the minute it crosses a street into the real world it’s not just useless but obnoxious. I want you to be offended every single day on this campus. I want you to be deeply aggrieved and offended and upset and then to learn how to speak back because that’s what need from you in these communities.
Michael Munger: What you cannot do is annex the entire university as a safe space.
Dave Rubin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Michael Munger: You cannot say, “I want to be all across the university safe from anything that I disagree with.” So that it’s the very fact that there’s these different safe spaces that nearly ensure there’s gonna be somebody working on things you totally disagree with and they have to be safe within that space.
Dave Rubin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Michael Munger: You don’t get to prevent them from doing that. So I think we need safe spaces for examples for fraternities. And that’s the safe space people are … Fraternities are terrible.
Dave Rubin: They hate fraternities, yeah.
Michael Munger: No. People need to be able to come up with associations. So there’s five freedoms that are guaranteed in the first amendment and we forget freedom of association. Freedom of association means I get to choose the people that I hang out with and if I want to have a club or organization, and we have rules, and we want to talk about the stuff we want to talk about, and having the speakers that we want, even if it’s Milo.
Dave Rubin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Michael Munger: Okay.