Thursday, March 16, 2017

Opposites Attract (on Middlebury Issue)

From Inside Higher Ed:

Stylistically and politically, Robert P. George and Cornel West don’t have much in common. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, is one of the country’s most prominent conservative intellectuals. West, a professor of the practice of public philosophy and African and African-American studies at Harvard University, is a self-described “radical Democrat” who, in addition to many books, once released a spoken-word album.
So when George and West agree on something and lend their names to it, people take notice -- as they did this week, when the pair published a statement in support of “truth seeking, democracy and freedom of thought and expression.” It’s a politely worded denunciation of what George and West call “campus illiberalism,” or the brand of thinking that led to this month’s incident at Middlebury College, where students prevented an invited speaker from talking and a professor was physically attacked by some who were protesting the invitation.
“It is all too common these days for people to try to immunize from criticism opinions that happen to be dominant in their particular communities,” reads the statement. “Sometimes this is done by questioning the motives and thus stigmatizing those who dissent from prevailing opinions; or by disrupting their presentations; or by demanding that they be excluded from campus or, if they have already been invited, disinvited.”
Sometimes, it says, “students and faculty members turn their backs on speakers whose opinions they don’t like or simply walk out and refuse to listen to those whose convictions offend their values. Of course, the right to peacefully protest, including on campuses, is sacrosanct. But before exercising that right, each of us should ask: Might it not be better to listen respectfully and try to learn from a speaker with whom I disagree? Might it better serve the cause of truth seeking to engage the speaker in frank civil discussion?”
All of us “should be willing -- even eager -- to engage with anyone who is prepared to do business in the currency of truth-seeking discourse by offering reasons, marshaling evidence and making arguments,” George and West wrote. “The more important the subject under discussion, the more willing we should be to listen and engage -- especially if the person with whom we are in conversation will challenge our deeply held -- even our most cherished and identity-forming -- beliefs.”
Such “an ethos,” they conclude, “protects us against dogmatism and groupthink, both of which are toxic to the health of academic communities and to the functioning of democracies.”...
The actual West-George statement is at:

(Directions for those who want to sign are at link above.)

No comments: