During a conversation about college in Des Moines, Iowa, President Obama was asked by a student about Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson’s remarks about liberal colleges.
While not mentioning Carson by name, one student asked Obama for a reaction to Carson’s comments during the summer suggesting colleges should be monitored by the Department of Education for political bias.
“The other function I would give to the Department of Education is monitoring our institutions of higher learning — colleges and universities — for extreme political bias,” Carson said in June. “If it exists, they get no federal funding.”
Obama ridiculed the idea, saying it was absurd for college campuses to be monitored by the federal government.
“I didn’t hear this candidate say that, I have no idea what that means, I suspect that he doesn’t either,” Obama said, as the audience applauded and cheered.
Obama reminded the students that a crucial point of a college education was to “widen your horizons” and engage different points of view. He recalled that when he was in college, he was often infuriated by people with opposing views, but learned to keep an open mind.
Returning to Carson’s comments about liberal colleges, Obama continued.
“The idea that you’d have somebody in government making a decision about what you should think ahead of time, or what you should be taught, and if it’s not the right thought or idea or perspective or philosophy that they wouldn’t get funding runs contrary to everything we believe about education,” he said. “I guess that might work in the Soviet Union, but it doesn’t work here.”
But Obama also pointed out that liberal college students were problematic when they boycotted books because of offensive ideas or language.
“I don’t agree that you when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view,” he said.
Obama continued, pointing out incidents where some college students boycotted conservative speakers on the basis that they were offensive.
“Anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with them, you should have an argument with them, but you shouldn’t silence them by saying ‘you can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say’ that’s not the way we learn either,” he explained.
Obama held a town hall at a High School in Des Moines, Iowa today to raise awareness for the importance of a college education and affordability.