In a latest article, a former provost lamented the loss in our college and society of “the power to disagree, to dispute, to debate, with out questioning our opponents’ basic dignity and humanity.” The cultivation of an area for respectful, rational debate is a noble purpose and one which undoubtedly falls throughout the purview of a college. However inside his argument, the previous provost made a troubling declare, one that’s unbecoming of somebody who has stuffed such an essential function for our establishment: specifically, the declare that “a college stands for nothing if not the free expression of viewpoints — true or false, supported or unsupported, agreeable or repugnant.”
A college is a spot for the creation, preservation and sharing of data. False and unsupported arguments are antithetical to the pursuit of reality and data with integrity, which needs to be anticipated of everybody inside our group. The post-truth political local weather we presently inhabit, the place disinformation and different details abound, has its roots within the proliferation of those false and unsupported arguments. The “group of students, who method even essentially the most agonizing occasions with compassion and understanding — and a willpower to discover a answer” have to be firmly rooted within the reality-based group. It’s neither respectful nor rational to entertain false and unsupported arguments.
The story the previous provost shared of his proudest day as a college chief is touching and holds essential classes for us, although maybe not those that he highlighted. When the group got here out in solidarity to guard fellow members from hateful speech and rhetoric, it wasn’t with a view to disagree, dispute and debate with the Westboro Baptist Church. The false and unsupported ideology Westboro got here to profess in itself denied the dignity and humanity of members of the campus group, which was countered by solidarity and affirmation of the humanity of our fellow group members. The blissful decision on the finish of the story was not that Westboro Church members altered their viewpoint after rational engagement however that they selected to depart and never return to a spot the place false and unsupported arguments weren’t tolerated. That was solely doable as a result of “a whole bunch and a whole bunch” of group members responded, more likely to the calls of dozens of devoted organizers who made plans that the previous provost uncared for to credit score.
A key tenet of a college is educational freedom to pursue subjects that run counter to mainstream thought. Questions on which lens to make use of in approaching an issue and which instruments are best to deal with a selected query are alternatives for rational, respectful debate. A variety of viewpoints usually strengthens the ensuing product by introducing new strains of questioning. However educational freedom doesn’t enable for eschewing educational accountability — arguments have to be grounded in fact and supported by proof.
The previous provost concludes with a well-made level: we must always “not … look to the college to guarantee us that our aspect is true.” A college doesn’t exist to show individuals what to suppose, however find out how to suppose. I used to be lucky sufficient to acquire a Ph.D. in my time working at Stanford, which implies I’ve been skilled in crucial considering and evaluation. That’s the reason I can’t stand for false and unsupported arguments, nor the supposition that it’s the obligation of the college to platform them.
Tim MacKenzie Ph.D. ’18 is a postdoc within the genetics division and an alumnus of the chemistry division.