Freshman orientation usually sticks to the basics — here’s your dorm, the cafeteria is in this building, don’t forget to sign up early for timeshare slots on the mainframe. It’s been a while since I’ve been a freshman, obviously. Back in those days, universities prided themselves on their open approach to all ideas and perspectives, and the fact that you could get a 2400 baud connection on your terminal.
At Princeton’s James Madison Program, the old-fashioned values survive, at least with a few of their professors. In an open letter posted yesterday at the Ivy League institution to “our students and all students,” fifteen instructors from various Ivy League schools warned the next generation about the “tyranny of public opinion,” and the “easy, lazy way” of coping with it:
At many colleges and universities what John Stuart Mill called “the tyranny of public opinion” does more than merely discourage students from dissenting from prevailing views on moral, political, and other types of questions. It leads them to suppose that dominant views are so obviously correct that only a bigot or a crank could question them.
Since no one wants to be, or be thought of, as a bigot or a crank, the easy, lazy way to proceed is simply by falling into line with campus orthodoxies.
Don’t do that. Think for yourself.
The signatories — including luminaries such as Robert P. George and former Vatican ambassador Mary Ann Glendon — warn especially about those who label people with heterodox opinions as “bigots.” That’s usually a case of projection, and the sign of weak minds aggregating social power rather than intelligence:
Merriam-Webster’s first definition of the word “bigot” is a person “who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.” The only people who need fear open-minded inquiry and robust debate are the actual bigots, including those on campuses or in the broader society who seek to protect the hegemony of their opinions by claiming that to question those opinions is itself bigotry.
Be sure to read the whole essay. Every university and college should include this in their welcome packet for incoming students, and take steps to ensure its adoption on their own campuses. It should become the standard response to demands for “safe spaces” and hysterics over the supposed “violence” of hearing differing opinions. This message is a desperately needed reminder of the need for free speech, and our own individual and collective responsibilities for supporting it.
The only two true questions this missive raises are these: Could they not find any more than 15 Ivy League professors to sign their names to this document? And can we get someone to air-drop a few thousand copies on Berkeley?