George Orwell warned us of the dangers of intellectual stagnancy. He explicitly identified academics as the prime agents of that stagnancy. It pains me to say that in certain pockets amongst humanities and social science faculties at liberal arts colleges including Lafayette’s, a staunchly liberal intellectual stagnancy has begun to impose itself on students. Jonathan Haidt and Mitchell Langbert provide stunning empirical evidence for the growing ideological bias within the faculty at liberal arts colleges. Its effect on intellectual rigor within and beyond the classroom is slow but profound, for intellectual stagnation begets intellectual stagnation. As a liberal myself and as a student of the humanities, I find it alarming that there is a growing tendency within the faculty to protect students from what they consider dangerous ideas. Such protection, while well intentioned, is unhealthy and unfair for students.
A strong liberal bias among faculty is not a matter of much concern as long as it is does not directly or indirectly stifle discourse within classrooms. After the election of Donald Trump, however, the bias is beginning to take material form. I admire the commitment of faculty who care deeply about the well-being of students, but not when it comes at a cost of fomenting intellectual cowardice. As a student I find it insulting that some of our esteemed professors consider us incapable of assessing evidence for ourselves and hence conclude that we need protection from exposure to divisive, troubling propositions. This risks turning classrooms into echo chambers, where intellectual rigor is sacrificed at the helm of conviction or sensitivity.
I by no means wish to exaggerate the pervasiveness of this tendency, which, in my view, is contained at present but nevertheless growing. With only the greatest respect for our faculty, I would like to remind them that they should be teaching us how to think, not what to think. The autonomy of education is embedded in that distinction. As a left-leaning student, I feel the distinction is being ignored.
John Stuart Mill’s commitment to the intellectual process, as opposed to the current obsession with conclusions, is reasonable to follow. He simply suggested that one’s opinion must be constantly challenged by opposing views, presented in their most persuasive form by people who actually believe them. Only after refuting every other possibility on rational grounds may one declare a position as her or his own. Sadly, the current discourse at Lafayette provides no real avenue for unorthodox positions to be discussed, let alone argued. For any intellectual, this is a worrying sign.
I implore faculty members to expose us to the full range of serious viewpoints, and to treat education as conversation rather than a monologue.
Written by Abdul Manan ’18.