Edit desk: Free our speech

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I prepare for class discussion. I walk into the classroom. I take out my notebook.

Before the start of the class, I read over “my opinions.” These opinions I know a lot of my classmates will agree with.  

Madi Hite

Repeat. 

Throughout my time in high school, I loved to debate. Whether it was during a class with my teacher or with one of my friends — if I was passionate about something and someone else was too, we would engage.

It wasn’t because I loved to argue with other people. It was simply because I loved to learn.

I loved to learn about other people’s religions, backgrounds, beliefs, races, ethnicities and their social and political views. I wanted to understand why someone believed in a particular view and why they thought it was just.

I couldn’t wait to go to college for that exact reason.

But, I soon learned that there would be no debating different viewpoints at Lehigh.

Often, I am afraid to even open my mouth.

College is a place to expand your horizons and learn all different kinds of perspectives, yet students are continually put into boxes to appease other people. Students personally judge others for having a different opinion.

This limits the enrichment of our learning environment in class, and during the day-to-day interactions with other individuals on campus.

Opinions are viewpoints. Not an identity.

When someone says they are in favor of a big-budget military, it doesn’t mean that they are a “redneck.” And just because someone is pro-choice doesn’t mean that they do not believe in a god.  

Yes, these issues are rooted in the divide of our nation, but if we don’t talk about them openly, aren’t we furthering this partition?

In a Gallup study, about 54 percent of college students said “the climate on campus prevents some people from saying what they believe because others might find it offensive.”

Though this statistic may not be specific to Lehigh, it shows there is a possibility that the majority of students at Lehigh could feel this way. After all, Lehigh is a university.

I am not saying every opinion won’t be offensive. There are definitely individuals and different viewpoints that are offensive. On this campus, I have even seen students support hate speech.

What I am saying is there is a limited exchange of opinions on controversies at Lehigh throughout our time here. Many students on campus feel that if they do speak, they will be judged. They are afraid they will offend somebody.

While you may disagree with somebody, that doesn’t mean that they are a “bigot,” “libtard,” “stupid,” “racist” or a “feminazi.”

Last year, a friend of mine came back from a class visibly distraught. She said that her professor declared “anyone who votes for Donald Trump is stupid.”  Whether that professor was provoking discussion or making a statement about his views, she told me not one person spoke up.

I expected people would speak up when they heard such a controversial statement. But then I realized I would do the same, I would stay silent. 

Time and time again, we are encouraged to speak up and “exchange” our perspectives on issues.

If anything, this past election has reflected that this principle is fallacious.

I have self-reflected and discovered when I am in a class where I knew the professor and most students were Republican, I would only say things that supported their beliefs in our discussion. If I were in a class where the professor and most students were Democrats, I would do the same thing.

I realized I have never said something in a class that reflects what I believe in. And I think a lot of students can say the same thing.  

I want to be able to walk into a class and have a civil disagreement with somebody, but I have not done this once since I have been at Lehigh.

As students, we need to stop being so afraid of conflict, because conflict is the basis of a resolution. And over the course of my two years at Lehigh, I have realized even I am afraid of conflict.

But this needs to change. We need to change.

We were a country founded on the first amendment, the freedom of speech. But recently, it seems as though speech needs to be freed.

Madison Hite, ’20, is an associate sports editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]

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27 Comments

  1. This is long overdue. Civil discourse across the country is in a sorry state, especially in universities. and people are so viscerally afraid of the war of ideas that the very substance of our “debates” suffer. Good ideas, good policy, can only surface in an environment of passionate, but respectful debate. If something thinks that an opinion is abhorrent, then that opinion needs to be confronted, put in the spotlight, scrutinized, and rebutted. Shutting ideas down you don’t agree with only feeds division and helps no one except your ego. Over the long good ideas will crowd out bad ones, and I think history is a pretty good indication of this.

  2. Madison, speak your opinions and encourage your peers to do the same. It has been proven over the last two weeks that your generation can move mountains. The goal should be open, respectful, and robust discussions. Sometimes opinions will change, other times not. It is OK to agree to disagree. And it’s more than OK to work collaboratively and utilize compromise to reach outcomes that will move the goalpost past the status quo. I can only hope that the professors at my alma matter would not penalize a student simply for offering an alternate view. Lehigh is an amazing institution and one I am proud to say I support. May she encourage her students to be strong in their voice and resolve while being ready to listen and learn.

    • Amy Charles '89 on

      Notice that she still hasn’t said what she thinks about anything beyond “we shouldn’t feel scared to say whay we think.”

      But she’s also not recognizing that there are elements of old and new in what she’s noticed. Mostly old. The first big jeremiad about incivility and rudeness/ferocity online was John Seabrook’s in the New Yorker in 1994, before most people knew what an online was, and then we had a decade or so of journalists and public figures pronouncing that this incivility and abandonment of goodnatured and spirited debate was all because of the anonymity of online life and how people would never face to face, which of course isn’t true (and was already looking worn by the time of the ’08 election and Occupy). And, crucially, she’s not asking why it’s so, which would’ve made a much more interesting column and blown her deadline to pieces.

      • Amy – you aren’t listening; you are only preaching. The article deals with what is happening present day at Lehigh. This is about what students are feeling. The author purposefully left our her viewpoints because of teachers like you that are intolerant of other people’s viewpoints.

    • Buddha – the author was making the point that she and other students are fearful of expressing their opinions in class. She didn’t write an op ed expressing her opinions. Re read the article when there is less smoke in the room 🙂

  3. Amy Charles '89 on

    Madison: Okay, let’s look at this more carefully.

    I teach classes that often touch directly on political themes and contemporary affairs. My job in the classroom is not to tell students what to think, or to advocate for my point of view, if for no other reason than that it can’t be a fair fight: I’ve got 30 years’ debate experience and reading on the students, and in the end I’m the one with the power to hand out grades. But part of my job certainly is pulling students up short when they come in with bad and non-arguments, which is most of what they have, and stopping them cold when it’s plain that they haven’t understood the words on the page because they don’t know what some of those words mean or refer to.

    If what you want is a freewheeling debate, you’re not going to get one in my classroom unless you are much, much better prepared than your classmates are, and that’s unlikely. Because your freewheeling debate, like theirs, is likely to be full of kneejerk reactions and “I just think” and “obviously” and bits of unconsidered — certainly un-factchecked — propaganda and oceans of ignorance about the history of the things under discussion, including the stories and arguments, including long-ago arguments, long-ago and related stories. What you’ve got are collections of things you heard fairly recently without much context. And there isn’t time for that in my class, because my aim is to teach you to construct a considered argument, which begins with being able to summarize other people’s views, accurately and reasonably completely. Which means understanding what they’ve said in the first place. Which often means doing a lot more reading and thinking. And then comes critique, marshalling an argument or evaluation, a sensible thing to say, and presenting it lucidly.

    So, for instance, if you want to bang a drum for Trump by saying that our system of checks and balances will take care of anything untoward, I know that this is a hopeful thought at best, but I’m not going to say that. Instead I’m going to ask you a series of questions about how that’s worked elsewhere and why (other places do after all have constitutions and divisions of power in government), including counterexamples, and also about what you’re assuming about the interrelations of the three branches — how each can influence the others, and why that closer view doesn’t kill your argument. If we have time, and we probably won’t, I might ask you about Marbury v. Madison, the case which established SCOTUS as the last word in setting bounds on what all three branches can do, and how it was that SCOTUS managed to swing its power that way, much to the dismay of the other two. In other words, I’m going to complicate your argument and your view to the point where it cannot be a twitter thread. You will not be able to answer the questions immediately. You might not even know how to go about looking for answers, or understanding the answers you find, though I’ll help you with that. You’re going to hear “how do you know” and “are you sure” and “what is the connection between that idea and this” an awful lot. You’re also going to be pushed to consider the costs — for yourself, for other people — of getting it wrong. As you and your classmates dig these things up, you will of course interpret and contextualize them differently depending on your experience and how you think, and I’ll wade in again to point out a bad summary or connection (or one that’s strong and right on). And that presumably is why you pay tuition. When my students show up several weeks into a course overwhelmed by how much more complicated it all is than they thought, and then trying to cope with the existential issue of how to proceed when everything’s so uncertain, the stakes are so high, and nobody can give them a reliable, rock-solid answer, then I know they might be getting their money’s worth. The rest of the course is about learning how to go on with eyes open despite all the uncertainty, how to live with it and go on learning.

    So – Madison – let me suggest that you go in with the idea that *you probably haven’t had time* to see, read, hear, live, understand very much. That instead of being all hot to go in and debate, you take a look at that notebook page and start looking carefully at what you feel strongly and why — really, where experientially does this come from, what do you really know, and are you sure, and why — are you mixing up your own experience with anyone else’s, and what are you assuming about other people’s stories; what stories and histories and ideas have you been introduced (and only introduced) to, and how powerfully and where and why are they acting as interpretive for that experience. And begin to think about where your knowledge ends. It’s likely to be a pretty constricted little circle of light. It is for most people and you’ve only just started. And then take a look at your interest in learning — and go with that. Worry less about battling with pool-noodle opinions. Worry more about learning enough to develop meaningful arguments and see where your arguments have giant holes of open ignorance. And ask more questions about whether you’ve understood what you’ve read or heard, what it means. Go to office hours. Consider what your profs know and don’t know, and how you know. You almost certainly haven’t got much beyond the surface, and that’s fine, that’s why you’re in college. Which is still only going to be a start, but it can be a good start.

    As for the question of unpopular opinions: you’re not in a brave part of the world. It’s unlikely to change. Greed, fear, and careerism have a way of buttoning lips, and to be frank I’ve never known Lehigh as a place where people get terribly exhilarated by ideas and scholarship that don’t come attached to the two words “could get”. I’m very glad that your generation is much more willing and able than the last two to say things that are long overdue, and (I hope) insist on some things that are also overdue. But I also hope you can recognize that this moment is fleeting. A fifty-year cultural order is ending with the death of the boomers and we’ve got large emergencies. Something big, new, and I think powerful, culturally, is going to organize itself and consolidate in the next several years, and after that I bet it’s going to be harder to say new things, new unpopular things, things that look irrelevant. You’re also going to have more to lose, someday; speaking up will be personally more expensive for you and your classmates. So if you’re going to do it, I’d recommend being brave and getting good practice in now, getting into the habit, rather than waiting for an invitation that’s unlikely to come. Just think carefully about what you’re saying and keep poking it.

    Michael: You know what they say about the long run, don’t you?

    The marketplace of ideas is in for a serious overhaul, because it’s being recognized out loud now that in polite debate the edge always goes to those who can debate at a comfortable remove from the urgency and pain of the things under debate. To those so privileged. And Pinker notwithstanding it’s not at all clear that it’s all onward and upward in the garden. I didn’t expect to be talking about slavery as an actual thing, again: did you? And yet it’s the theme of the last 15 years with the re-emergence of a plutocracy and corporate prisons and more relentless discussion of wage gaps: the recognition that there a lot of people who want literal slaves. Along with re-emergence of people literally saying slavery’s not so terrible a thing. And people creating literal indentured-servitude schemes in exchange for college tuition. We’ve also learned well that respectful, polite-though-passionate argument is not, or not by itself, what brought about gay rights. Or women’s rights. Or what exist of minority rights, disability rights. A whole lot of shouting, civil disobedience, sometimes-violent protest, legislation (including anti-hate-speech, anti-discrimination, and anti-harassment legislation), and demographic change have gone into these, too.

    I don’t bother debating people who are quite sure my daughter shouldn’t have the right to decide when and whether she becomes a mother, or who want to tell my friends who to love and have sex with, or who’re committed to a string of baloney ignorant talking points about climate change, or who want to waste my time with whataboutery, or who’re too lazy to do their own homework on issues and want me to be their unpaid personal librarian and mind-changer, or who just want to debate me on serious and consequential points for amusement. I don’t have time for that garbage. There is debate, and then there is change that people need, and often the terms of the debate change only after the change itself has taken place and the new thing has become normal and “reasonable”. I’ll leave you with this:

    • Hopeful Student on

      Dear Ms. Charles,

      While Lehigh students are young and are limited with experiences, we still have earned the privilege to express our opinions. For example, look at the diploma less teenagers in Florida that met with the President. Because of them, we finally have a United States President that is prepared to do something about gun control. Staying silent in the classroom because your teacher/professor is intolerant of your valid viewpoint should never happen. I had a teacher make the remark “anyone that voted for Trump is a racist”. Believing in LEGAL immigration does not make a student a racist but it does make them keep silent in the classroom. I do think many teachers/professors would love open exchanges in the classroom and I am hopeful that more of them will make it clear to their students that students will not be penalized or harassed for having an opinion that differs from their teacher/professor.

      Sincerely,
      Hopeful Student

      • Amy Charles '89 on

        Hopeful,

        The teens speaking out in Florida do have a diploma. They’ve got more diploma than anyone wants. They just lived through a massacre. They have more authority, moral and otherwise, to talk about this than nearly anyone else does…except those hundreds (thousands?) of others who’ve also lived through massacres in this country now.

        For that matter, the kids walking out of middle and high schools also have an authority to speak that most of us lack: they have no choice but to go to school. They can’t decide tomorrow that they’ve had enough, it’s crazy to go in there, and they’re not going anymore. You can decide not to go to college or to your classes. I can decide not to go to campus and to get another job, or just hole up in my house. But legally they’re children: they go where we send them, and every week we seem to have another demonstration of the dangers they can’t walk away from.

        But what about you? You certainly have the right to say whatever you want, and you’ve bought some extraordinarily expensive time in a classroom, or someone’s bought it for you. My question for you is what your purpose is in expressing your opinion in your classrooms. Are you there to try to extend what you’ve learned and see how you’re doing, or to be heard and validated? If it’s mainly the latter — well, you don’t really have to pay $45K/yr tuition for that. You don’t need a classroom at all. You can find some people and go to it.

        If you’re there mainly to learn, you’ll likely be interested in spending the limited class time on finding out — fast — something about where your knowledge ends, and seeing where your arguments die. Or when you’re unwittingly making arguments that you don’t mean to make, because you didn’t know where they came from. Or being pushed to dig to the thing that you actually mean to say, rather than serving up someone else’s overdesigned talking points as proxies. The things you mean to say will be authentic, but may also shock you when they comes out — and you may be surprised by how tenuous the connections are between the talking point and the things you mean.

        You say, for instance, that you believe in legal immigration. Leaving aside your construction (these are matters of political philosophy, policy, and law, not faith): if you were in my class and you really wanted to argue that issue, really cared about it, we’d be having an initial conversation about what you know of immigration and internal migration in this country’s history. What exactly it is you mean by “legal immigration”, where you came by that idea, and where it sits in both this country’s history and how this country’s gotten by. (We wouldn’t have time for talking about how immigration has gone elsewhere, but I’d point out that ours is not the only history to look at.) You’d be spending weeks on it, and you’d be reading narrative and scholarly pieces that probably required a lot of question-asking and contextualizing, and I’d be reading along and quizzing you on your comprehension. If you brought in other sources, I’d be looking with you at source quality and probably exchanging what you brought for your sources’ sources’ sources, where the real juice was. We would talk about real and complex cases. By the time you left that course, I think you’d recognize that it doesn’t mean very much to say “I’m in favor of legal migration,” and you’d be on your way to a burdensome but necessary understanding of how large and complex an issue immigration is, how superficial your own understanding is (particularly if you haven’t tried to immigrate anywhere yourself or worked in immigration law), and how ramshackle and changeable constructions of nationality and legal immigration are and why. You’d be developing a much more nuanced set of ideas about who you think ought to be allowed in, and for how long, and why or why not, not to mention beginning to question the notion of “in”: of borders and nation-state-based identities altogether. You’d be getting to know a massive infrastructure of language and concepts for talking about these things, and appreciating that it owns the immigration conversation in every arena but the propaganda one…and that the propaganda one has its own aims and infrastructure and history.

        But along the way you’d also have been pushed to inquire within yourself about why this nearly (and intentionally) meaningless “legal immigration” talking point — a bit of propaganda — had been so very appealing to you. What things you wanted to be true of the world, and why.

        So — no, not all of your profs are going to validate your current thinking, substance or process. They may cut right to the chase about that, too. If they’re good teachers, though, and you show up to talk seriously, they’ll recognize and respect you, the person. They’ll respect that you’re there questing and aiming to learn, working. They’ll listen with interest to what you have to say about your world, which is different from theirs. They will also respect that you’re only a student for now, that this is very temporary, and that the world will, in a little while, be yours.

        As for profs saying “voting for _____ is stupid” or anything personal and hurtful to the class, or disrespectful of experience: I don’t think this should happen, just as some of my profs shouldn’t have turned up drunk. If you do have a prof who says things like that, though, and it’s really upsetting to you, I am curious why at least part your response is not, “Why do you say that?”

        I’ve had profs — very good profs — who’ve savaged things I cared about. I’m thinking of one in particular. It turned out that her opposition came from something significant culturally and intellectually, something I didn’t know anything about, but she knew a lot about. Because I was 25 and she was nearly 60 and extraordinarily sharp, and had interests that were very different than mine. She didn’t explain herself at the time, but eventually I saw something about where that outburst had come from.

        I still don’t really care about her thing, which she’s spent much of her life on; it just isn’t interesting to me. But I respect it as real and serious. And I don’t dismiss the view from there of the thing I care about as stupid. It is a valid criticism. And that’s the thing, Hopeful — if you’ve got smart and thoughtful profs, they’ll have spent a lot of time thinking about things and having the heavyweight arguments, and even if you’re not keen on the tone and it’s not been a gratifying experience, listening to them, you might learn something. They’re people, not responsive teaching apps, and they may not always speak in a way you can use immediately.

        About this, btw: “Staying silent in the classroom because your teacher/professor is intolerant of your valid viewpoint should never happen” — I agree. But the only one who can move your mouth is you. If you can’t think of the counterargument in the moment, repeat what the prof said, get confirmation, and write it down so that you’re not misquoting, and come back with the counterargument later. The prof will likely still be alive.

        Will it be scary? Maybe. But then you guys will have much more to lose later on for speaking up: right now you have lots of time to make up any missteps, you’re mostly not self-supporting, you mostly don’t have children or other people you’re responsible for. You don’t have houses to lose or spouses to disappoint. And yet I’m hearing you say you’re very nervous. That seems worth an op-ed by itself, because I really don’t think that speaking up will get cheaper as you get older. It’s a good time to start thinking about what you’re willing to pay to speak freely, and identifiably, and defend your convictions. It’s seldom inexpensive, even in gentle times.

      • Amy Charles '89 on

        Oh! I almost forgot. Question for you: would you say it’s unfair to say that anyone who voted for Trump was willing to *tolerate* racism, given his various campaign remarks and the white-supremacist fellow travelers? And if so, why?

        • Hopeful Student on

          Dear Ms. Charles,

          Diploma is a certificate awarded by an educational establishment to show that someone has successfully completed a course of study. The Florida teens are still in high school and have neither a high school diploma or a college diploma. They were motivated by a horrific experience that could have been avoided had the people in charge of protecting them LISTENED to them.

          Further, I did not say that I support legal immigration. I said that students that do support legal immigration stay silent in classrooms where they are called racists for their beliefs. I know this because I engage with people that have different view points than my own. I LISTEN to them.

          I do think it is unfair to say that anyone that voted for Trump was/is willing to tolerate racism. White supremacist groups represent their agenda, not Trump’s or Trump supporters as a whole. I am not sure what Trump campaign remarks you are referring to that may lead one to make the argument that if you voted for Trump, you tolerate racism.

          Obama spent 20 years at a church where the sermons were anti white and anti semitic. He only left the church when his affiliation with it rocked his bid for the White House. It only took Oprah two years to leave, saying that the sermons were not right. Does Obama’s choice to be affiliated with hate messages against whites and jews make his supporters tolerant of racism?

          Further, Obama voted NO on the late term abortion ban. We know that a fetus/baby can survive outside of the mother’s uterus at 23 weeks. Does that make anyone that voted for Obama tolerant of murder?

          It is not always one issue that unites voters to support or denounce a particular candidate.

          Perhaps you should take your own advice and do more thinking before responding.

          Peace,
          Hopeful Student

  4. Friend Of Lehigh on

    Re-posting as my last post didn’t make the cut I guess.

    I find it odd that Amy’s comments always make it right up, even though she’s extremely critical of other posts and a student making a call to have more open debate…. Makes me wonder why that is… Since you are allowed without hesitation by the Brown & White to post whatever you want, critical of everyone else, I wonder why they didn’t allow my last post to survive being critical of your arguments…

    Anyway, again, Amy, this is directed to you. You claim you are a teacher or at least someone that “teaches classes.” Yet, you attack a student for encouraging more open debate? Nice job.

    I especially enjoyed your comment that advocating your point of view wouldn’t be a fair fight given your 30 years of debating experience. I’ve had the unfortunate pleasure of reading your senseless arguments – trust me – don’t worry about it being a fair fight… I was particularly perplexed how an article encouraging more open discussion in the classroom caused you to raise Marbury vs. Madison and posting a video of James Baldwin? I digress.

    Your long response above is incoherent and doesn’t address the point. You demean the author by assuming she wants a “freewheeling debate” which is full of “bits of unconsidered — certainly un-factchecked — propaganda and oceans of ignorance about the history of the things.” Now how do you know that Amy? You are a teacher, the author is a student, and that is your base case assumption. There in lies the problem.

    You are a liberal teacher that is threatened by the thought of actually having to defend your views. When liberals actually have to defend their ideas, it ends where your post ended – personal attacks, not a debate on substance.

    I encourage you to continue to post as it highlights the hollowness of your arguments and the unhinged nature of the posts.

    Please keep going – I for one am always looking for a good chuckle. Especially the one about debating you not being a fair fight – That’s Gold.

  5. Your article got some reaction, good. I can tell from experience you will get better grades in college classes when you express the thoughts and opinions of your professors in exams and papers. The notion that a well thought out opinion with supporting facts will get you an A in a English class or Humanities class that is contrary to the professor’s established opinion is foolhardy at best.

  6. your average student on

    Amy you have taken this opinion article written by a college student and through your long winded, hyper-intellectual response you have only helped Madison to solidify her argument. You claim to not advocate your own positions in the classroom and you claim to support well constructed arguments. Your comment (essay?) would have been fairly valuable and effective if you had stopped there. Instead you immediately propose an example scenario which was clearly just your way of taking a shot at President Donald Trump. You then go on to make a multitude of unsubstantiated arguments of your own including touching on wage gaps, abortion, climate change, “hate speech legislation,” and a claim that there are “a lot of people who want literal slaves.” You then say that you don’t have time for “garbage” claims. If you cannot comment on a student’s opinion article about an issue that is prominent at most colleges, including Lehigh, without spewing your personal opinions, it is difficult to believe that you don’t advocate your own opinions in the classroom and shut down claims that challenge yours by labeling them garbage. It is understandable that many students feel that they have to say what professors want to hear or risk hurting their GPA. Madison did not take any political stances or side on any issue in this article but instead pointed out a problem. The fact that your response was incredibly political and one sided shows that you probably felt threatened by the truth and reality of this article.

    • Amy Charles '89 on

      Oh, I see.

      You want your profs not to show that they have views, so that you don’t need to fear that they’ll disagree with you. I never hide my views or background from my students, and I teach them to look for where the people they’re reading fall on various ideological spectra, to look for biography, too. Not so they can pigeonhole the writers but so that they can guess at some context for what the writers are saying — though it’s only going to be a guess, and they have to be careful about that.

      The B&W is, of course, not a classroom, and I’d speak somewhat differently in class. Because, again, class is not about my views: class is about the students’ learning to see and question and marshal cogent arguments and critiques, whatever their stances may be. And the time there’s limited. The things I choose for them to read and watch are things that in some way I’ve found interesting, or are standards, and they’re chosen not so I can propagandize but because I know they’re rich intellectually and rhetorically, they represent a range of viewpoints and themes, and I happen to be familiar enough with them to use them in teaching. I tell students that up front, too, so that if they don’t want that, they can drop the class.

      You seem to assume, though, that because I have visible views, I’m going to battle to the death or punish any student who doesn’t share them. And that’s a very, very big leap. If this is what you’re assuming in your classes, by the way, you’re making unfounded judgments about your profs. I understand that there’s a lot of right-wing-media propaganda about how wildly liberal the academy is (and the things they say make it pretty clear they haven’t spent much time living in academia and don’t know it very well), and that it encourages people who listen to it to believe that the world is divided into teams intent on killing each other (the lefty left does this part too, and it’s equally stupid there), meaning that any prof who says something liberal-scented is out to get you and it’s just proof that the academy is owned by killer liberals (I’m suddenly reminded of the propaganda about the ZOG). But part of the intellectual training you don’t seem to be too keen on is training in working with views that are not your own, and recognizing good argumentation along lines you’re not personally sympathetic to. If what you were saying was true in my classroom, Republican and just generally right-wingish students would be afraid to speak up (and they aren’t), and they wouldn’t come to me for help and letters of recommendation (and they do), let alone for conversation (which they also do). I would never vote for a Republican. My right-wing and very religious boss would probably fire me. My right-wing colleagues would probably refuse to work with me. (My leftier colleagues would, too.) None of these things happen. Because real academic worlds are made up of people with diverse points of view who — on the whole — know they have to get along and work together for decades in the small towns that are universities.

      About this intellectual thing — yep, that’s right. You’re at a university. It’s packed to the rafters with scholars and scientists. They’re intellectuals who read and write long. Entire books, sometimes. And unless they’re tired and sour from being professors too long, they’re not going to let you get away with bullshitting your way through; you’ll actually have to learn complex things and a few multisyllabic words and demonstrate you’ve thought hard and at least a little bit well about them. This actually tends to be the thing RMW’s unhappy about, when it comes to academia. There was some right-wing effort in the 90s — Catholic-intellectual, as I recall — to retake the academy by developing new conservative thought, but it didn’t get very far, partly because they didn’t have enough support on the right. Not enough right-wingers who thought an intellectual foundation for what they were doing was important. You see that bias come out in the guys who get elected president, too. Heads of Dems are generally big readers, they invite authors to the WH, they lapse into polysyllablism at the UN and speak in paragraphs. The last GOP president I can recall who read much of anything was the first Bush, and he was kind of an outlier, an old Rocky-Republican internationalist. I disagreed profoundly with him about a lot, but he was a pretty smart guy who doesn’t get enough credit for the fact that the world didn’t explode as the Soviet Union fell apart.

      You won’t believe this, but industry types keep showing up and complaining at academics that it’s incredibly hard to hire people who can really *think*, on their own, and won’t we give them some of those. We try to oblige. If you don’t like intellectual talk, though — if what you want is management audiobooks — then buy a library of those and Peter Thiel your way along. Invest the money in markets instead, it’ll be worth a bundle when you’re old. Or drop the snobbery and check out a community college, which is really about vocational training. Join an expensive club for the upmarket social end, it still won’t cost what Lehigh does and the booze will be better. I regret as much as anyone else this business where everyone has to spend bazillions on bachelor’s and master’s degrees in order to get employers to look at them, and I don’t think it ought to be that way. Of course, you might not like what it’d take to get to that world — part of the reason everyone has to go to college now is that K12’s deteriorated to the point that we’re doing a lot of remedial work at university level. But you can’t fix that until you deal with the fact that a quarter of the nation’s kids live in poverty and have falling-apart schools that can’t pay their teachers, and that we’ve decided the best way to deal with this is to turn schools into social-services agencies and/or farm the whole thing out to people who want most urgently to turn a buck. Actually dealing with the poverty and school-infrastructure problems would mean some serious income redistribution.

      —-

      Finally, about your GPA.

      If you’re not willing to risk some GPA points — even anything that tiny and longterm inconsequential, assuming you’re not on massive GPA-dependent scholarship — you’re likely going to be scared of standing up for what you think for your entire life. And if you’re dishonest about it you’re going to blame other people for that. I’ve seen that person at 40 and that person is not a happy person. They’ve got a nice house and all the visible signs of success, and they’re absolutely full of baloney. It’s the only way they can get by, because those are the only things they can say at work, to their “friends”, and so on. You know what they do? They try to have an affair with someone who “really understands them”. It’s all as sordid and sad as you imagine. Don’t turn into that person. Speak. Speak thoughtfully, but speak. And risk the GPA points and the moments of standing alone with the thing you find to be important. Nothing would be sadder than if your generation, with its massive opportunity to do serious and significant things in the world — you’re the first ones in decades, and you have no idea how many of the rest of us are willing to back you — turned out to be too frightened of standing alone and poor, now and then, in order to say the things you individually know to be important and stand by them.

      Bring it on, folks, because I am sensing that this is where the conversation’s at.

      • Friend of Lehigh on

        More Gold from Amy!! Thank you so much!! Classic.

        I really enjoy how you work in totally abstract thoughts like the following “I’ve seen that person at 40 and that person is not a happy person. They’ve got a nice house and all the visible signs of success, and they’re absolutely full of baloney. It’s the only way they can get by, because those are the only things they can say at work, to their “friends”, and so on. You know what they do? They try to have an affair with someone who “really understands them”. It’s all as sordid and sad as you imagine. Don’t turn into that person. Speak.”

        Wow – profound? Don’t think so.

        This about the freedom to speak one’s mind in class without retribution. The students clearly don’t think they can. Whether you think that’s ridiculous doesn’t really matter. It’s pretty clear that every student commenting feels that way. Maybe its because they just saw 83% of their professors vote to revoke Trump’s degree. And why – because they don’t like him.

        I noticed you referenced how only democratic presidents are “generally big readers, they invite authors to the WH, they lapse into polysyllablism at the UN and speak in paragraphs.” Is that how Bill Clinton seduced a 21 year old intern into the Oval Office where he received oral sex? Bill was probably quoting to Monica text from Beethoven’s letter to Immortal Beloved since he was such a big reader. Oh yea, then he perjured himself about it and was disbarred and impeached.

        I recall that deposition where Bill Clinton used those big words and said “It depends on what the definition of is is”. Classic Bill – but clearly a big reader. I am sure you and the 83% of professors are so proud of him and his perjury using such big words.

        And I won’t even get into how Hillary attacked all of Bill’s accusers for all those years even though she knew the truth – more concerned about power than a predator.

        Level the playing field Lehigh. Let’s have these righteous professors and people like Amy put some skin in the game. The students all have skin in the game. See Amy, grades actually matter and every 10th of a point can mean the difference between getting an interview and not. That’s why student’s are hesitant to speak up – because they want a good GPA because they want a good job. Professors have the ability to limit their job opportunities. That is why student’s should be given the right to limit the professors careers as well. The threat of loss of tenure and termination would be a good compromise! Don’t be afraid Amy – I bet your students think you are very accepting of other people’s views that differ from yours.

        Amend the Harassment Policy – allow students to pursue intimidation charges against professors when students are harassed or intimidated for expressing political views. Make political views a protected class under the policy. A little fear by the professors for their career will level the playing field in the classroom and open up the debate.

        Oh, and Amy, keep the hits coming. Gold!

        • Amy Charles '89 on

          When a self-identified student makes that argument, FOL, I’ll respond. I don’t know any students who are the combination of privileged, terrified, and venal that you’re describing, so I’d want to hear it from an actual student first.

  7. Excellent article Madison as I’m sure many students feel the same as you. I know my son does!!
    @Amy Charles, you are either correcting somebody’s punctuation or you are blabbering on and on and on. You have just solidified the point Madison is trying to put across.

    • Amy Charles '89 on

      Totes, Boromom. If you can’t say it in a text, it probably ain’t worth saying. Also, stop climbing up the back of your son’s chair. Give the kid some space.

      • @Amy Charles.. “climbing up the back of your son’s chair” lol! You’re blabbering again but please continue it’s entertaining.

        • BOROMOM,

          I don’t actually think Amy Charles is a teacher. Seriously, what teacher would take issue with an article about tolerance of different viewpoints in the classroom? Notice how Amy Charles didn’t t respond when Hopeful Student took her to task. Rather, Amy Charles chose to spend her time and energy writing illogical remarks with a nasty tone. Teachers are better than that.

          • @ Lehigh Grad, I believe you are correct. It’s scary to think somebody with such a nasty tone is teaching our children.

      • @ Amy Charles, Looks like my response didn’t post but I’m glad so I can respond with more thought and less sarcasm. My son at Lehigh is my youngest of 4 that I am putting through college. Probably the most independent of the 4 and the one who is there solely on merit all on his own. How many children do you have since you seem so knowledgeable on the subject of communicating with children too? No doubt you are certainly more educated than I am and perhaps more worldly, but trust me when I say I don’t have the energy nor desire to “climb up the back of my son’s chair”. In fact, I would probably knock my back out during the climb and be laid up for weeks. lol! I do however, have the ability to listen to my kids who may have a difference in my opinion especially my 4th. Not so sure you can say the same. Please don’t assume anything. Have nice day!!

        Congrats Madison again on a great article that has sparked so many comments.

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