There is a disturbing movement afoot on America’s college campuses. I speak of the growing tendency to exclude certain points of view from being heard. In the name of defending the campuses from what they regard as “hate speech,” numbers of liberal students and faculty members are banding together to make sure that opinions they strongly disagree with are not heard.
In an article in this month’s “Intercollegiate Review,” an author with a familiar name (David Ortiz) tells of a number of instances in which speakers have been refused a voice on a number of campuses. At Stanford University, of all places, a group known as the Anscombe Society attempted to get funding to bring in a group of “nationally renowned speakers” to discuss public policy issues “driving the marriage debate.” The campus LGBTQ community launched protests against the attempts and the funding, which had originally been approved, was withdrawn. Then the Anscombe Society was told it would be necessary for them to pay a $5,600.00 “security fee” to protect the student body against possible violence. Now, whether one sides with the political left or the right in this issue, it beggars belief that a group of students and faculty on today’s campuses would argue against listening to a point of view, no matter how strongly they happen to disagree with it. Whether one is for or against same-sex marriage (and I am in favor of it as it happens) a college campus is a place where one would think it is not only possible, but desirable, to hear opposing points of view. It engenders healthy debate which is the life-blood of intellectual growth.
This is only one of several examples of intolerance across the country on college campuses cited by Ortiz. Others involve Brandeis University, which refused to allow prominent women’s rights activist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was named by Time magazine as one of the world’s most influential people, to be their commencement speaker. Her offense? “She has dared to critique radical Islam for its history of violence and bigotry against women.” More than seventy-five members of the faculty joined student leaders to force the Administration to withdraw the invitation. Similar incidents occurred at Rutgers University involving Condoleezza Rice and at Azusa Pacific University (whatever that is!) involving right-wing author Charles Murray. As Murray noted in a letter he wrote to the students at Azusa, “[Your] administration wants to protect you from earnest and nerdy old guys who have opinions that some of your faculty do not share. Ask if this is why you’re getting a college education.”
Clearly, this is part of a growing problem across the country — and one that was pointed out in a recent speech in Iowa by former president Bill Clinton: people are increasingly refusing to listen to opposing points of view. While dialogue is vital to a democracy, genuine dialogue is dying out. On college campuses, in the name of what many regard as cultural diversity, there are movements to “protect” students against intellectual diversity. And this is the real problem here. As I say, whether or not one agrees with a person’s opinion it ought to be allowed to be given a voice — especially in an institution that claims to be promoting a liberal education. Listening to only one point of view is not education, it is indoctrination. There is considerable truth in the cliché “a closed mind is an empty mind.” And of all people, liberals (so-called) should be opposed to indoctrination. For years they have insisted that conservatives have indoctrinated students on America’s campuses by promoting ideas put forth by “dead, white, European males.” Whether or not this is true, and I strongly believe it is not, intolerance is wrong no matter who happens to be practicing it. The students, who are paying through their noses, are the real victims here.
We live in strange times. But they are times that demand open and searching minds because the problems we face as a human race grow larger by the day. Any attempt to close those minds, especially by so-called “educators,” is alien to everything that is demanded in today’s world. Whether or not we have children in college we must all be concerned about the growing tendency to silence voices that should be heard — from both ends of the political spectrum. Intolerance of any type should never be tolerated on a college campus, or anywhere else.
Hugh, this is an excellent post. College campuses should promote open-minded dialogue. If your ideas are good, they will stand the test of good debate.
Yet, even people with ideals have faults, real and perceived. What few realize, is someone can support a cause, but not the extremists who are using the cause to do violence, e.g. You use the excellent example of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She better than anyone knows how women have been marginalized by religion. As another example, one can understand that Palestinians are being marginalized, yet condemn the tactics of Hamas. On the flip side, you can support Israel’s right to defend itself, but condemn their attacks which kill civilians.
To reinforce your theme, I read a line yesterday regarding The Roosevelts documentary series. The author noted that neiither Roosevelt could get elected today, even though their progressive ideas that came from both major political parties moved America forward. Teddy did not like injustice especially when it was perpetrated by robber barons on the common man. FDR of course, helped the common man, when opportunities were fewer. Yet, neither man was perfect and made mistakes. Teddy would bully people to get his way and used PR better than any president before him and maybe since. FDR could be condescending and cool, yet no president did more for common people.
I watched former Secretary of State and General Colin Powell speak at my son’s graduation. There was some disgruntlememt that Powell was part of the team that convinced others of WMDs to invade Iraq and he should not speak. I would contend he was used by Bush/ Cheney/ Rumsfeld, but that is another story. Yet, this is a great American who overcame discrimination and being an average student to do well and serve his country. At the commencement speech, there were numerous African-American citizens who just came to hear him speak. And, it was the best commencement speech I have ever heard.
Great job, professor. You know this issue well, BTG
Thanks for the good comment, BTG. I do believe that it is correct that neither Roosevelt could be elected today. We are involved in a leveling-off process that disallows the extraordinary.
Great post. There appears to be a fear of debate, or an inability to hear the viewpoints of others in a respectful manner. Students are not trained to think critically in the younger academic years or shift through information to arrive at truth. I’ve been thinking about one of your honors classes I took where we discussed the purpose of higher education. It is sad to think that the purpose of higher education has shifted so much that anyone who disagrees with the accepted agenda of the institution is silenced and vilified.
Thanks, Katy. Civilized discourse seems to be in full retreat! I suspect the eradication by the FCC of the “Fairness Doctrine” in 2011 has something to do with it — together with the large numbers of talking heads on TV shouting at one another.
Actually, the Fairness Doctrine was revoked under Reagan in 1987. In 2011 the FCC decided to drop the language. You probably knew that!
The whole Matter of Public Education is a batch of Tinder waiting to be lit, so far as the aspirations of Ideologues is concerned…a potential and explosive reservoir of Mind and Spirit to be either protected or manipulated (mostly the latter) for the ‘public good’.
I say, let the happenstance occur as it may, whether of Mind or Meaning, or Accident…for there is NO belief justified to occur of Genius or Discover which the programs of men can or have invented, or which may yet, and have, advanced Civilization. Man, all told, is an Accident of being…Truth be known.