There was a time when admission to a college or university meant that students would be exposed to ideas different from those they brought to the classroom (“Woke Universities Lead America to a Primitive State,” The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 3). But today higher education is characterized by mob rule. Students not toeing the party line are subjected to abuse – both verbal and physical.
Few administrators have the spine to denounce what is taking place on campuses for fear of retaliation in one form or another. As a result, what purports to be education really is nothing more than indoctrination in the social sciences and humanities.
When I was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1950s, students were there to study. Whatever protests took place were short-lived. I don’t remember any professor allowing personal ideology to contaminate instruction. As a result, a bachelor’s degree meant something. That’s more than can be said about its value today.
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4 Replies to “The academy is hostile to independent thinking”
Think it’s fine — good — actually for college students to be strongly invested in current issues, including participating in protests and in arguing with fellow students.
On the other hand, students interfering with instruction (or, even worse, college administrators taking adverse action against a faculty member based on a faculty member’s politics) is totally wrong and contrary to the fundamental purpose of the university.
Excesses in student-student interaction is a closer question. I’d err on the side of tolerating such excesses, so long as no physical threats or violence were involved.
Labor Lawyer: The trouble is that too many protests end up being riots. I remember when Middlebury College in Vermont invited Charles Murray to speak, but he never uttered a word before he was threatened by students and had to be escorted off campus for his safety.
Seems clear that we should not condemn protests on the ground that protests sometimes evolve into riots. The answer is to tolerate the protests while rigorously enforcing rules against anyone who engages in or advocates riots. Not sure what happened re the Middlebury/Murray incident. Vague recollection that the college did little/nothing to discipline the students who blocked Murray from speaking.
This all raises the related and difficult issue of the overlapping responsibilities of the college and the local police as well as the separate but also related difficult issue of who should pay for the additional security required when controversial speakers appear on campus. It’s easy to say that colleges should protect the free speech rights of controversial speakers (including the right of college students to invite controversial speakers to appear on campus). But, if/when it’s likely that the presence of a controversial speaker will trigger violent protests, to what extent is the college required to fund the additional security required? To what extent can the college require the student organization that is sponsoring the speaker to pay for the additional security? My preference would be to switch the responsibility for providing security in these cases to the local police (who, after all, are responsible generally for maintaining the peace, even on private property). But, there’s a strong custom re events such as rock concerts whereby the sponsors of the rock concert either provide their own security or pay the police overtime if the police provide the security. Could argue that rock concerts and controversial speakers pose different degrees of First Amendment concerns and that the local govt (police) has a much more compelling obligation to provide (and pay for) security for controversial speakers than for rock concerts. But, local govt officials might be reluctant to pay out local taxpayer funds to provide police protection on a college campus for a speaker who’s message is very unpopular with the overwhelming majority of the local taxpayers.
As is usually the case, no obvious easy answers.
Labor Lawyer: I think the primary responsibility rests with college administrators. If students know that there will be serious consequences for disrupting speech, The problem would go away. Unfortunately, all students get is a slap on the wrist for outrageous behavior.