Friday, May 16, 2014

Free speech on college campuses

Several high profile commencement speakers have been dis-invited or have decided not to speak this graduation season, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

I am not sure if this is an entirely new phenomenon but it does seem to be more of a news item this year than in years past. I have been on college campuses, first at Miami University and now at Clemson, for almost a decade and I do not remember commencement speakers being such a hot issue.

There does seem to be some truth to the idea that young people today would rather shout down their opponents than engage in thoughtful debate. I try to encourage my students to listen to proponents on all the sides of an issue, do their own research, and come to their own conclusions. Dismissing something out of hand is not a good way to learn about anything. You can't know if you are for or against something until you have information about it and that involves being open minded and listening.

I will say that I think politically correct speech has gotten out of hand. People are afraid to talk about sensitive subjects because there is always someone ready to accuse them of being a racist, or sexist, or homophobic, or whatever else might be en vogue. Speech can be a clumsy way of expressing oneself and sometimes things don't come out exactly the way we mean them too. But people need to be given the benefit of the doubt so that they can fully explain themselves before others accuse them of being something that they are not.

Open minds along with public discourse is how rational, thinking beings like humans should solve problems; not name calling and sometimes an outright suppression of ideas. This should be especially true on college campuses, a place where academic freedom is supposed to reign supreme. If current events are indeed part of a new trend I hope we can reverse it.

No comments:

Post a Comment