Ordinary Philosophy Recommends: IQ2 Debate – Are Liberals Stifling Intellectual Diversity on Campus?

Office for Emergency Management War Production Board Free speech doesn't mean careless talk circa 1942 1943 Public Domain via Wikimedia CommonsWhen I first read the title of this debate, my immediate reaction was ‘Yup!’

I consider myself more of a liberal than otherwise, yet I found myself generally in agreement with the proposition ‘Liberals are stifling intellectual diversity on campus’.

Many of the examples of effective censorship were already familiar to me: the students who called for UC Berkeley to dis-invite Bill Maher to deliver a commencement speech; constant overzealous insistence on ‘politically correct’ terminology; the perceived need to prefix nearly every class lecture or statement with ‘trigger warnings’ so that students’ feelings, apparently of the delicacy of fine china within their tender little minds, wouldn’t suffer in the slightest.

If I sound sarcastic in the latter remarks, it’s intentional: all this hyper-sensitivity, I fear, is helping to dumb down public discourse, which is especially worrisome in the very institutions whose mission it is to enlighten. It’s important to understand the difference between respect for others, which I think includes the respect for their intellect which informs open and honest discourse, and the squeamish fear of arousing any emotional response beyond placid approval.

To be fair, there’s plenty of non-liberal censorship going on too, as the debaters against the motion pointed out, and were some examples of purported liberal censorship that I don’t think are valid. For example, Kirstin Powers, in favor of the motion, referred to universities refusing to approve student club constitutions that require their members or leaders to hold certain beliefs, such as at Vanderbilt University. I don’t think this is an example of censorship at all. The reasons students are not allowed to command belief in their members are derived from generally applicable laws and principles that prioritize full participation in the public square. An institution that accepts money and resources from the public, such as a university, is well within its rights to say that a club can’t accept those resources and then turn around and allocate them in a discriminatory way. Likewise, the university, and in turn its approved clubs, can’t command their members not to believe certain things either. The students who decide to join these clubs will thus freely self-select their own membership, and those who join who hold dissenting beliefs will bring in a little healthy debate and strengthen the club’s own grasp of the ideas they promote. That’s how the marketplace of ideas works.

Likewise, the students who call for dis-invitations of speakers they don’t agree with would show themselves much more faithful to true liberal values if they support the right of people with opposing views to speak at their campus. If they disagree with the views and actions of the speaker, they should show up to the speech and challenge the views of the speaker in person, in the question and answer session, or with signs for the speaker and audience to read, or if no other means of expression is available to them, plainly express their dissent by getting up en masse and walking out.

~~~~~~~~
Sources and Inspiration
‘Liberals are Stifling Intellectual Diversity on Campus’, Intelligence Squared U.S. debate, Feb 24, 2015.
http://intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/past-debates/item/1310-liberals-are-stifling-intellectual….

‘Vanderbilt University: Refusal to Approve Constitutions of Student Groups that Require Leaders to Share Beliefs’, FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) website, 2012.
http://www.thefire.org/cases/vanderbilt-university-refusal-to-approve-constitutions-of-student

One thought on “Ordinary Philosophy Recommends: IQ2 Debate – Are Liberals Stifling Intellectual Diversity on Campus?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s