Academic Intolerance: An Inside View

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

We have an old Pennsylvania Dutch saying that goes: “Ve grow too soon alt und too late schmart.” Perhaps many college officers feel this way.

“Over the years, I have watched a growing intolerance at universities in this country – not intolerance along racial or ethnic or gender lines – there, we have made laudable progress,” John Etchemendy, a former provost of Stanford said in a recent speech to Stanford’s Board of Trustees. “Rather, a kind of intellectual intolerance, a political one-sidedness, that is the antithesis of what universities should stand for. It manifests itself in many ways: in the intellectual monocultures that have taken over certain disciplines; in the demands to disinvite speakers and outlaw groups whose views we find offensive; in constant calls for the university itself to take political stands. We decry certain news outlets as echo chambers, while we fail to notice the echo chamber we’ve built around ourselves.”

“This results in a kind of intellectual blindness that will, in the long run, be more damaging to universities than cuts in federal funding or ill-conceived constraints on immigration. It will be more damaging because we won’t even see it: We will write off those with opposing views as evil or ignorant or stupid, rather than as interlocutors worthy of consideration. We succumb to the all-purpose ad hominem because it is easier and more comforting than rational argument.”

It is to Etchemendy’s undying credit that he made these points to the board of trustees. Yet and still, he spoke of them as if they hadn’t occurred yet.