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Thomas Gallatin / August 30, 2017

Ivy League Profs to Students: ‘Think for Yourself’

An open letter from 15 professors encourages students to refrain from “the vice of conformism.”

Several Ivy League professors from the universities of Harvard, Princeton and Yale sent out a letter of advice to all incoming college students this week. Their message: “Think for yourself.” In the letter they challenge students to avoid “the vice of conformism” and to avoid the trap of “what John Stuart Mill called ‘the tyranny of public opinion.’”

Over the years, the once-high ideal of America’s institutions of higher learning being bastions of tolerance for the expression of freedom in thought and speech has eroded into them being little more than “safe space” echo chambers of leftist ideology and propaganda. In the past couple of years in particular Americans have witnessed various university and college campuses produce some of the most intolerant policies, voices and behaviors. The list includes the banning of various religious and social groups based on their supposed “bigoted” (non-leftist) ideology, the dis-invitation of various conservative speakers and the creation of “safe spaces” designed to prohibit and limit the freedom of speech in public places on campus. And finally, the growth of leftist social justice warriors who have advocated and engaged in violence in places like UC Berkeley and Middlebury, and most recently the takeover of Evergreen State College by a mob of these leftist SJW students.

The sad thing is that only 15 professors signed the letter. This letter should have garnered near universal support from Ivy League faculty. When concerns over offending another individual’s feelings prohibit someone, specifically one whose career is based on educating and challenging others to learn about and engage new ideas or concepts, from honestly expressing their knowledge and thoughtful opinions without fear of reprisal, we have a problem. The concept that equates unpopular speech to literal violence against individuals with opposing views is a fallacy that has unfortunately gone unchallenged by many on the Left.

Leftists’ argument for engaging in physical violence against others (like “punching a Nazi”) because they find their views repugnant or bigoted is the antithesis of tolerance and objective reasoning. Just yesterday a visiting assistant professor at the University of Tampa was fired for tweeting that he believed residents of Texas suffering from Hurricane Harvey were getting what they deserved because they voted for Donald Trump. His tweet read, “I don’t believe in instant karma but this kinda feels like it for Texas. Hopefully this will help them realize the GOP doesn’t care about them.” It is this type of what might be best described as anti-logic that elevates emotion over and against rational thought. It seeks to limit the freedom of speech because it simply cannot objectively justify the irrational over the rational. It cannot logically support the anti-scientific over the scientific and still refer to it as “science.”

Popular opinion does not create or establish truth; it simply sets cultural precedent that should never be immune from challenge. Thankfully, at least 15 professors are brave enough to point out this reality to incoming college students. We hope many more embrace this truth.

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