Wendy linked me an article that has really been making the rounds on the internet. At 4700 odd comments it clearly hit a nerve both for those who agree and those who do not. The basic premise of the article is that universities are making a mistake in trying to keep people from being offended, and that they should discourage trigger warnings for content, and let people speak freely without worrying about giving offense.
It is important that people feel free to speak. While laws both in the US and Canada protect our freedom to speak without government interference (to varying degrees of success, admittedly) they do not prevent universities from interfering with speech nor force them to do so. As such this isn't a legal matter, but rather a matter of good policy for universities. We should be talking here about what is going to be the best possible environment for students to learn and be careful about our uses of the words 'free speech' as those regularly derail conversations away from any useful course.
It is critical that students learning at universities have access to a wide range of ideas. The very core of academic research is testing of ideas against others with the plan of discarding those that fail and this cannot be accomplished unless communication of those ideas is easy and with minimal impediment. I don't think that is in any doubt, regardless of how you view the politics of offense. The key thing we need to make clear is that there is a great difference between being disapproving of someone's opinion and thinking that they ought to be censured on the basis of holding that opinion. Basically, we need to be clear on when exactly we use the threat of expulsion or firing to prevent speech. There are many opinions that I greatly disagree with but would not wish someone to be removed from a university for, like "I think God exists and wants us to worship him." or "Those GamerGaters really have a point about ethics in video games journalism." Those opinions are wrong and tick me off but they aren't specific threats and universities are better off letting those who know better tell those people they are full of it than trying to ban the speech.
When you ban speech, whether it be by threat of guns or expulsion, you should have a damn good reason for it, and "That person is an asshole and they are wrong" doesn't cut it.
Trigger warnings are a big part of what the article rails against and I kind of get their point - you cannot possibly figure out what might trigger any member of a large, random group of people. Any list of triggers is going to be absurdly long and if it is remotely comprehensive it cannot be reasonable to use... and being truly comprehensive is impossible. If a professor wants to use trigger warnings I have no problem with it because they ought to present the course as they see fit so long as the course gets taught, but compiling a mandatory, set of trigger warnings for all courses for all people is preposterous.
There are some really tricky points. For example, "The most qualified person should get the job." To many people this seems obviously true, even tautological. But we should recognize that it is constantly used to justify hiring another straight white man in a situation where overall qualifications are difficult to judge, and where people who aren't that straight white man would be just as good but haven't had the opportunity to develop the desired qualifications. When you utter this statement you have to recognize that it is often used as a justification for discrimination so even though we generally do want more qualified people to get the job we also should avoid tacitly supporting discriminatory hiring practices when we can. Even though hearing that statement would likely provoke some kind of negative response from me varying from "You assbucket" to "Um, you really ought to consider the implications of what you are saying..." depending on the circumstances I don't think this sort of thing should be policed at universities either.
The world is full of good ideas that are on the outside and bad ideas that need to die. Unfortunately there isn't some global metric we can use to decide which ones to allow and which ones to condemn so we need to create spaces where ideas can be aired, considered, debated, and eventually set to rest one way or another. Universities are those spaces, and it is extremely important that people be able to bring up all kinds of ideas that might make others uncomfortable in those spaces. However, part of making other people uncomfortable is getting told that you are wrong and bad. Feeling forced to apologize because so many people have informed you that you are a bag of shit is an example of the marketplace of ideas working, not censorship. Telling people they are being offensive and wrong and being told you are offensive and wrong in turn without having the guns be brought in is, and should be, the university experience.