In a bold, counter-cultural move, a number of scholars from top U.S. universities have written an open letter to incoming students, urging them to embrace critical thinking and resist the “tyranny of public opinion.”
Fifteen noted academics from Yale, Harvard, and Princeton Universities co-signed the letter, which offers advice to students that can be summed up as “Think for yourself.”
In recent decades, American universities have become identified with closed-mindedness, political correctness, and dogmatic liberalism, which has led to the stifling of free thought, research, and expression. As a result, institutions that should be bastions of impartial inquiry have instead enforced progressive orthodoxy.
The new letter, whose first draft was authored by Princeton professor Robert P. George, attempts to buck the trend of liberal orthodoxy, united to “the vice of conformism” and “groupthink.”
At many colleges and universities, the letter states, the “tyranny of public opinion” discourages students from dissenting from prevailing views on moral and political issues. “It leads them to suppose that dominant views are so obviously correct that only a bigot or a crank could question them.”
“Since no one wants to be, or be thought of as, a bigot or a crank, the easy, lazy way to proceed is simply by falling into line with campus orthodoxies,” it states.
One of the signers, Carlos Eire, who teaches history and religious studies at Yale, said he has been “deeply alarmed by the rise of intolerance on college campuses, especially because that intolerance comes from one direction only, from the left… If you disagree with them you are immediately branded as evil and/or stupid.”
The scholars urge students to be the architects of their own education by forming their ability to think for themselves and to adopt the positions that seem most persuasive, whether they are popular or not.
“The love of truth and the desire to attain it should motivate you to think for yourself,” they state. “The central point of a college education is to seek truth and to learn the skills and acquire the virtues necessary to be a lifelong truth-seeker. Open-mindedness, critical thinking, and debate are essential to discovering the truth. Moreover, they are our best antidotes to bigotry.”
The scholars close their letter by inviting students to resist conformism.
“So don’t be tyrannized by public opinion,” it says. “Don’t get trapped in an echo chamber. Whether you in the end reject or embrace a view, make sure you decide where you stand by critically assessing the arguments for the competing positions.”
A year ago, the University of Chicago similarly warned new students not to expect a culture of “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” during their time at university.
In a letter, the Dean of Students informed incoming freshmen last August that the university is characterized by its “commitment to freedom of expression,” and therefore the university “does not support trigger warnings,” “does not cancel speakers because their topics might prove controversial,” and “does not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where students can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”
The publication of this week’s letter follows closely on the heels of violent Antifa protests in northern California, whose stated aim was to silence those who disagreed with their positions.
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