This commentary was originally featured in Forbes on August 29, 2017.

If you thought Texas was immune to the campus madness spreading near-daily across America, consider the case of Southern Methodist University (SMU). This summer, the Dallas university seemed ready to leap aboard the bandwagon of censorship and intolerance. That it ultimately retreated from this illiberal undertaking should give confidence to its friends and alums and, more importantly, to friends of freedom everywhere.

As reported on its website, in July, the SMU chapter of the conservative student group, Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), filed a request for the use of “Dallas Hall Lawn, a central location on campus” where, for the past two years, YAF has hosted the “9/11: Never Forget Project.” The Project display consists of 2,977 American flags, which “represent each of the 2,977 Americans murdered by Al Qaeda terrorists in September 2001.” There appeared to be no reason why this, its third request, would not be approved again.

However, on July 24, YAF received an email from SMU’s administration announcing that the school had altered its policy. “The email informed YAF that displays are now forbidden on Dallas Hall Lawn, and would instead be relegated to MoMac Park,” which YAF regards as “a location unquestionably less visible and further removed from students’ everyday activities. Dallas Hall Lawn is a busy thriving hub of activity,” which “functions as the central forum of SMU’s campus. MoMac Park does not.”

Why the change in policy? This is where things appeared to go from bad to worse—before they got much better—for the administration.

To provide some background, SMU—according to the nonpartisan free-speech watchdog, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)—already is suspect when it comes to protecting free speech. FIRE grades SMU with a “speech code rating Yellow,” which indicates that the school has “at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application.” To be fair, there is a worse grade that FIRE provides—a “Red Light,” which a number of Texas universities currently receive, among them, two publics, UT-Austin and the University of Houston, and one private, Rice University. A “Red Light” rating means, quoting FIRE’s website, that the school “has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”

This is not the first time that SMU has tussled with YAF; the latter’s websiteavers that the school had objected to a prior version of the Memorial, citing scheduling and logistical obstacles. The new policy, announced at the end of July, stated, “While the University respects the rights of students to free speech, the University respects the right of members of the community to avoid messages that are triggering, harmful, or harassing” (emphasis mine).

For the sake of not offending anyone, the Memorial would be moved from its prior place of prominence.

But then, something peculiar seems to have happened. Perhaps someone in the administration realized that the new campus obsession with “triggering speech” does not play well, nor should it, in a country founded on the principle that freedom of speech includes “offensive” speech, as a number of Court decisions have affirmed. Although SMU, as a private school, is not legally bound to uphold the First Amendment—as UT-Austin, the University of Houston, and all public universities are—SMU’s Mission Statement “affirms its historical commitment to academic freedom and open inquiry.”

For some reason, on August 1, SMU announced an additional revision to its just-revised policy on public displays. The Dallas Morning News accordingly updated its coverage with the following explanatory note: “Revised to include that SMU has updated its campus expression policy by removing language about ‘harmful or triggering messages.’ An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the university had ruled the 9/11 memorial must move because it could be triggering to students. The university's policy requires all displays to move to the new site.”

By insisting that it “incorrectly” asserted that the university would move the 9/11 memorial “because it could be triggering to students,” the Morning News update appears to be practicing interpretive charity, which is always a noble stance; but in this instance is it more charitable than accurate? After all, SMU’s “revision-of-the-revision” expressly states its purpose is “to remove” its “poor wording regarding triggering or harmful messages.”

Whatever the case, if the school thought that its speedy deletion of the term, “triggering”—while still holding to its decision to relegate the Memorial to a less-trafficked location—would end the controversy, it was mistaken. On August 2, the Lone Star State’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, sent the school a public letter asking President R. Gerald Turner to permit his students to place the Memorial flags in their "traditional place of honor" on the “Dallas Hall lawn,” adding, “This display is not political. It is not partisan. It is not controversial. This is about our nation united.”

Alas, we are far from a nation united these days—from Charlottesville, to Berkeley, to Yale, to Middlebury, to Evergreen State College, and beyond—our campuses and country are roiling with ideological conflict. The cause? Much of it owes to the rise in “hypersensitivity,” the public venting of which has sometimes been met by guilt-induced servility on the part of administrators, as I argue here and here.

As a former professor and senior university administrator, it is not difficult to imagine the genuine angst with which SMU’s leadership struggled to satisfy both sides of a battle not of the school’s making. From this unplanned war there would be no easy exit—someone would be offended by the school’s choice, whichever way it went: Some could be expected to decry the perceived insensitivity of the Memorial; others, to rail at what appeared to them as not only an infringement on free speech, but a slighting of the slaughtered of 9/11.

I sympathize with SMU’s plight. At the same time, it is unclear that its first attempted solution—to move all displays to MoMac Park—would have bought the peace it sought at the price of its “historical commitment to academic freedom and open inquiry.” In time, thoughtful members of the SMU community might come to wonder just what exactly the school stands for anymore, and why.

But then came the good news. Unlike a number of state officeholders nationwide, who have attempted, and largely failed, to convince their states’ campuses to protect free speech, Abbott’s entreaty hit pay dirt. A few days after the governor sent his admonition, SMU announced that it had reversed its prior decision, and would now restore the 9/11 Memorial and “all displays to the traditional location on the lawn.”

In this effort, the governor was aided by a free-speech-friendly coalition that, with YAF, included “leaders from the College Democrats, College Republicans, Feminist Equality Movement, Mustangs for Life and Turning Point USA.” Their joint letter to President Turner opined: “People absolutely have to have a right to their own opinions, but this does not come with a right to be shielded from opposing ideas, especially in an environment dedicated to the learning, sharing and developing of new ideas.”

One can approach this happy resolution in one of two ways. On the one hand, some might lament that students had to band together to teach their university elders that the intellectual excellence at which higher education aims depends ineluctably on the protection of free speech and debate.

One the other hand, others, this writer included, may eschew lamentations and instead take SMU at its word. After announcing its reversal, President Turner offered this statement: “I thank the students from across campus who came together in the spirit of mutual respect and civil discourse to achieve this outcome. Throughout these discussions, students have expressed their commitment to freedom of expression — a value the university shares.”

A no-less magnanimous postmortem on the saga was offered by Grant Wolf, Chairman of SMU’s YAF: “We have not fought against our university. We have fought for America. And America has won.”

I agree with and admire both Turner’s and Wolf’s assessments. In the end, SMU resisted PC/SJW’s gravitational pull, which has caused too many other schools to spin way from their core mission. At such schools, the "Social Justice" enterprise has already inclined their campuses in the totalitarian direction depicted in George Orwell’s 1984“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.

Unlike so many campus meltdowns of the past few years, in this case, what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature” prevailed. Let us hope that the triumph of freedom at SMU will stand as a model for other schools confronting similar stumbling blocks to the freedom to learn.