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Bill Tierney

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Twelve Inconvenient Truths—II

*This post is the second in a series on Richard Vedder’s Twelve Inconvenient Truths About Higher Education.

Okay, so another of his claims is akin to the “War on Christmas” that conservatives love to trot out over and over during the holidays. The pattern is familiar: they find a preposterous example that has an iota of credence and then portray that singular anecdote as the norm.

The academic version is:

Freedom of expression is curtailed.  

Professor Vedder largely has three concerns here. First, “examples abound” he claims where a student may espouse pro-traditional marriage on a personal website and the poor kid is then sanctioned, or actually wasn’t sanctioned, but “was going to be.” Second, the entire faculty is composed of lefties who indoctrinate students. Third, even presidents get into the act when they sign onto statements claiming that global warming exists when there’s another side to the debate over climate change. The result is that folks like the Koch brothers get stymied when they try to endow a chair in a conservative area and suggest who the chair holder should be.

The proof-by-anecdote I find particularly egregious. We have over 4,000 institutions in the United States. I’m certain that some of the examples that folks like Vedder show are mistakes that should not have occurred and should not be condoned. But there is simply no evidence that throughout our campuses students are shut down on a daily basis because they put forward a conservative stand on a controversial topic.

Indeed, a recent article by a conservative professor in Academe points out that he is not discriminated against. A recent book about conservative students Becoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives also does not paint a picture of conservatives who are worn down by their oppressive lefty peers. And if higher education is an indoctrination camp we sure are doing a lousy job. A glance at CIRP data hardly paints a picture of students becoming radicals. Part of the problem is the typical assumption that what happens at an elite campus is emblematic of academe when that’s not the case anymore.

The biggest laugher is that our radical college presidents—all 600 of them—signed onto a statement about global warming when “the jury is still out.” No it’s not. Ninety percent of scientists concur about global warming. We’ve got a few who don’t. The thought that we’ve got to wait until we get to 100% for our presidents to say something is basically asking us to stay mum. Healthy, vigorous debate is critical. But if I find a guy who says the earth is flat I’m not going to give him time to talk to students for an alternative perspective. There’s a difference with what we should do about global warming where there can be various left, right, and center solutions, and the deniers. I don’t think a debate about if the Holocaust existed is worthy of academe; apparently Professor Vedder does.

We have not been vigorous enough in rebutting these sorts of charges and as Goebbels knew, if you repeat a falsehood enough people will eventually believe it. We’ve got to be more vigilant at protecting free speech on our campuses when it is curtailed, and pointing out the lies when people say infringements are commonplace.

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