Are college campuses a haven for objective higher learning, or a breeding ground for indoctrination, bias, and intolerance?
Ideally, and certainly in principle, universities are designed to be the former. But in some cases, according to scholars on both sides of the political aisle, campuses are starting to veer toward the latter.
In an earlier blog post, we wrote about a statement entitled ““Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression” which was co-authored by conservative professor Robert P. George of Princeton University and liberal professor Cornell West of Harvard University. Professors George and West warn of the dangers of partisanship in intellectual discourse and call for the "cultivation and practice of the virtues of intellectual humility, openness of mind, and, above all, love of truth.”
In another post entitled "Graduating With Bias," we cited a variety of sources, including the president of Wesleyan University Michael Roth, who, in spite of his own liberal leanings, cautions about the massive imbalance of left-leaning and right-leaning professors throughout the country today. “In New England, where my own university is located, liberal professors outnumber their conservative colleagues by a ratio of 28:1.” This imbalance subjects students to an ideological bubble, Roth argues, and he calls for initiatives to aggressively counteract the current trends.
A column in yesterday's Washington Post takes the case even further. In "A chilling study shows how hostile college students are toward free speech," Catherine Rampell presents the findings of a new survey of 1,500 undergraduate students at four-year colleges that was conducted by John Villasenor, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and University of California at Los Angeles professor.
The survey's data is chilling indeed. Among Vellasenor's findings are the surprising facts that 40% of students polled believe that the first amendment does not protect hateful speech, that 50% responded that it was appropriate to repeatedly shout down speakers who they deemed offensive so that their opinions could not be expressed, and most alarmingly, that 20% responded that it is acceptable to use violence to disrupt a controversial speaker.
Somewhere along the line, we have lost the notion that educational institutions were intended to be an environment of respectful dialogue, and that spirited civil debate was a healthy method of mutual learning and progress. According to the survey's findings, the breakdown exists on both sides of the aisle, with both Democratic and Republican students expressing these problematic views.
In such a climate, we are pleased to announce the recent launch of "Common Party on Campus" with our first pilot program at The University of Pennsylvania. The goal of our campus engagement initiative is to work with students to promote the values of civility and respect through a suite of programs that will convene diverse constituencies for both social and educational activities.
Two weeks into the semester, we have brought on three extremely talented and motivated students - Jordan Rosen (class of '19), Niki Rubin (class of '19), and Talia Rosenberg (class of '21) - to serve as our inaugural Campus Directors. They have begun to publicize the organization at Penn and have received a tremendously positive and enthusiastic response.
The polarization and deterioration of American discourse is very much on the mind of college students, our directors report. While the data from Villasenor's survey supports the urgent need for remedial work to promote a more collegial climate on campus, the good news is that there are many students who are conscious of the problems and anxious to address them.
We will report the progress of our Penn program throughout the coming semester, and we will look forward to replicating these initiatives on campuses throughout the region and across the country in the near future.
The first event for Common Party on Campus is a program on October 18th entitled "Can We Talk: Political Dialogue In Donald Trump's America." Partnering with Penn and Cairn University, the event will convene students from several Philadelphia campuses who range across the political spectrum.