“The Closing of the Collegiate Mind“ is a feisty opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by Harvard professor Ruth Wisse that should be read.
There was a time when people looking for intellectual debate turned away from politics to the university. Political backrooms bred slogans and bagmen; universities fostered educated discussion. But when students in the 1960s began occupying university property like the thugs of regimes America was fighting abroad, the venues gradually reversed. Open debate is now protected only in the polity: In universities, muggers prevail.
Today across the United States and across much of the world university and college campuses are “closing the mind”, closing intellectual discussion. The discussion is being closed basically to Christians, those on the right, to conservatives. To those who might “offend” anyone in a group that must not be offended. Conformity and repression of ideas is valued and promoted over the democratic ideas of America.
Universities have not only failed to stand up to those who limit debate, they have played a part in encouraging them. The modish commitment to so-called diversity replaces the ideal of guaranteed equal treatment of individuals with guaranteed group preferences in hiring and curricular offerings.
Weiss lists case after case in a broad worrisome trend where discussion has been shut down often by students. Human rights campaigner Ayaan Hirsi Ali had an honorary degree from Brandeis University revoked, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly prevented from speaking at Brown University, Charles Murray canceled by Azusa Pacific University, former secretary of state and national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice harassed into declining the invitation by Rutgers, speakers who may challenge the ideas of people who are apt to throw a temper tantrum if their ideas are challenged. What is striking is not just the behavior of the students and some faculty but the behavior of the university administrators.
Where is the conservative voice?
Because conservative students do not take over buildings or drown others out with their shouting, instructors feel free to mock conservatives in the classroom, and administrators pay scant attention when their posters are torn down or their sensibilities offended.
To be heard on today’s politicized university and college campuses one needs to misbehave. As conservative students do not do that liberals have taken over college campuses not by winning the debate but by shutting down the debate.
Weiss ends her column with: “In Nigeria, Islamists think nothing of seizing hundreds of schoolgirls for the crime of aspiring to an education. Here in the United States, the educated class thinks nothing of denying an honorary degree to a fearless Muslim woman who at peril of her life, and in the name of liberal democracy, has insisted on exposing such outrages to the light. The struggle for freedom is universal; would that our universities were on its side.”
Shrinking from a debate shows insecurity in ones ideas. Instead of embracing closed-mindedness we need to enter the debate and not run from it and not shut it down. The university administrators need to stop being so concerned about modeling diversity and closing debates, they need to model civil debate.
Online: WSJ: The Closing of the Collegiate Mind
What was initially intended as an honor has now devolved into a moment of shaming. Yet the slur on my reputation is not the worst aspect of this episode. More deplorable is that an institution set up on the basis of religious freedom should today so deeply betray its own founding principles. The “spirit of free expression” referred to in the Brandeis statement has been stifled here, as my critics have achieved their objective of preventing me from addressing the graduating Class of 2014. Neither Brandeis nor my critics knew or even inquired as to what I might say. They simply wanted me to be silenced. I regret that very much.
–Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s response to the Brandeis University statement