Comments on economics, mystery fiction, drama, and art.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Dangerous Ideas/Safe Places

You may have seen, or heard, about this elsewhere:…/university-president-blasts-students…

This is the comment I posted there:
I've argued for more than 40 years that one function of colleges/universities if to provide a *safe* place in which people can explore difficult and challenging and "dangerous" ideas. The safe part is important--we have to be able to delve into, discuss, and even espouse unpopular ideas without becoming the target of anger and, yes, hate. The difficult, challenging, and dangerous ideas part is also important, because if our thinking is not challenged, we are unlikely to grow intellectually (and, if it matters, morally). I remember the struggles we had, back when, with university administrations that actively opposed the kind of open intellectual ferment I'm talking about.

What I am afraid is happening now is that university administrations will use what some see as the rise of student agitation for the restriction of some ideas as a justification for going back to a world in which only established ideas are allowed.

I would ask that you be aware that at the University of Missouri, and at a number of other campuses, it's not unpopular, or challenging, or dangerous IDEAS that students are reacting to, it is the openly racist atmosphere that exists as in Missouri, for example), the assault on the ability to explore difficult, challenging, and dangerous ideas in a SAFE environment--not safe from challenge, but safe from physical (n some cases) or psychological (in other cases) danger. I know a lot of people will see my inclusion of psychological danger as a cop-out. But imagine trying to think creatively in an environment in which your presence is deemed by many people to be an intrusion, in which you are deemed to be unworthy of being there. I have never had to deal with that, but I have had students--even at a university campus with one of the most "diverse" student populations in the country--who felt as if they were being treated (by other students, by some of the faculty...) as not deserving to be there.

I will say it again: Colleges and universities should be places in which students (and faculty) can explore difficult, challenging, dangerous (unpopular) ideas safely. If they cease to be that, they might as well be simply vocational schools, where there is one right was to do things, one right way to think, one right way to BE.

I have ranted long enough. Thank you, and good night.


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