Colleges pride themselves as bastions of creativity, promoting the free traffic of ideas. Yet, the relationship between campus leaders and freedom of speech has been a tenuous one in recent years.
For example, a few months ago, the University of St. Thomas planned to host Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a guest speaker, yet because of criticisms he made toward Israel that offended Jewish people, his appearance was cancelled.
The director of the program was later demoted having complained about Tutu’s revoked invitation.
Meanwhile, Columbia University allowed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to try and refute proven history and deny the existence of homosexuals in his own nation.
It appears to me that there are two problems plaguing the exchange of ideas and free speech on some campuses: political correctness being utilized as a form of control and censorship and the severe lack of debate and discussion.
On the subject of political correctness, by control I mean a way of keeping peace and order on campus. Order is a wonderful thing, but when voices are restrained there is a problem.
You cannot allow one group a chance to share their opinion without offering the opportunity to everyone else-no matter how radical their beliefs.
In order to curb the chance that a certain group on campus is not offended, college authorities often ban speakers-even if they have a valid or debatable point.
We’re driven by fear in our pursuit of equality. Being labeled a racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, or anything similar is a one-way ticket to academic ruin.
Yet, therein is the problem. How can campuses prevent discriminatory rants but promote rational criticism?
This question is especially illustrated in the case of former Harvard President Lawrence Summers. Summers was fired after suggesting that there were fewer women in math, science, and engineering because their brains are specialized for linguistic and communicative skills.
Obviously, ladies-professors and students alike-on campus were offended, and the professor was branded a sexist.
You can’t so much as deny equality between everyone, even in cases where differences are immediately obvious. To do so is to risk immediate censorship.
Though it may be hurtful, there should still be room for the man to espouse his beliefs as well as a chance for differing opinions to be heard.
Scenarios like Lawrence Summer’s are far too common on campuses. It truly is a shame; plus, it is not only a college problem. I get the impression that it’s a national issue.
If someone has something to say that most of the population, especially a minority group, doesn’t want to hear, then that person is shunned. There is never enough room for dissenting opinions and discussion in this country.
Optimist that I am, I believe that a good debate has tremendous power to bring students, and the nation, together. If organized around logic and respect between opposing ideas, then forums promote thought and innovation.
If there were an analytical critique of a controversial opinion then perhaps we’d learn there is credence to it. Just because it’s painful to hear, does not reduce its pertinence.
Ironically, one reason for the lack of diversity on campuses is because of the myriad of peoples in college. Race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation are far less homogenized compared to how they were in the past.
And, as is often the case, if someone says anything that can be misconstrued as insulting to a minority group that person is immediately punished and transformed into a pariah.
We promote feel-good rhetoric for minority groups-ideas that were controversial during the social revolutions of the 60s but are no longer. This sterility in thought performs a great disservice to the students and academic communities of colleges.
How can a deluded and highly offensive madman such as Mahmoud Ahmedinejad own the stage for an hour, yet an Archbishop dedicating his life to love and peace be refused for speaking his mind?
Dialogue and interrogation of the status quo are the keys to improvement and innovation. Without it college is nothing more than high school part 2 and the nation will soon be facing a revival of the 50s, rife with delusion and political correctness as a return to McCarthyism.