The fact is that most of our colleges and universities are skewed dangerously toward “progressive” ideas. Too many professors perceive their task as converting their students to an “enlightened” social perspective. They do not educate so much as indoctrinate.
This tilt is especially pronounced in the humanities and social sciences. Sadly, it is more marked in my own discipline of sociology than in most. Yet this does not have to be. There are good ideas on both sides of the political spectrum; hence they could be presented with greater symmetry.
Once upon a time, it was assumed that colleges should be “marketplaces of ideas.” They were thought to be bastions of learning where new insights were continuously developed in a give-and-take of competing academics. This way the wheat could be winnowed from the chaff such that the best positions survived.
But more than this, if colleges were level playing fields on which young adults could compare a multitude of conflicting viewpoints, these students could decide for themselves what was true. In this way, they would not only learn about the world, but also about how to learn.
One of the most crucial skills needed to succeed in the contemporary world is how to engage in independent thinking. Those persons who hope to become tomorrow’s leaders must be able to sift through — often on their own — a variety of different solutions before they settle on what is likely to work.
As most persons in stations of authority know, it is not always clear how to proceed. Indeed, the more complicated the project, the greater the number of uncertainties that are strewn along the path. This makes it essential to weigh the options before coming to a conclusion.
Our colleges and universities should be the place where the next generation of leaders learns how to achieve this. But students cannot develop this capacity if they are not allowed to practice it. And they cannot practice it unless they are exposed to differing intellectual perspectives.
This being the case, many of us at KSU are promoting the goal of moving the school toward becoming an ever more effective marketplace of ideas. We want the university to be a hotbed of lively discussions and innovative thought. We hope to make it a center intellectual exuberance fitting for the capital of the New South.
To this end, we are launching a series of KSU Marketplace of Ideas Days. Our intention is do these every term, starting with Tuesday, Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. Students, faculty and the public are all welcome to attend what promises to be a dynamic event in the main auditorium of our Social Sciences Building (SS1021).
Last year Dr. Ken White (a political scientist) and I engaged in a pre-election debate over the comparative merits of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The sparks flew and passions were set aflame. This time our Great Debate will concern the merits of Obamacare. No doubt there may once again be a few disagreements.
We are also bringing in Dr. Jonathan Imber of Wellesley College to be our featured speaker. A nationally respected scholar and the editor of the journal Society, he will discuss the ins and outs regarding teaching about conservatism on college campuses.
In the future, we also hope to put together panel discussions concerning topical issues. These will showcase students, faculty and members of the community on both sides of important questions. The objective is to have vital subjects energetically presented by committed advocates — who just happen to differ in their allegiances.
Ideas matter. Independent thinking matters. None of us, and certainly not institutions of higher learning, should shy from examining the truth just because it is controversial.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D., is professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.