The following letter to the editor appeared in the May 5 edition of Ripon College's newspaper, Ripon College Days. -- The Editors.
About a year ago I was deeply engaged in deciding which college I should attend; obviously many things were considered and I made the (right) decision to enroll here at Ripon. One of the things that attracted me to Ripon was the idea of a liberal arts education which, as stated on the college website, is "meant to liberate." Little did I know that liberal often means something far different, that liberation was often to come only in spurts.
To be sure, most of my classes have included high levels of debate and animated discussion, a process that I thoroughly enjoy, but that debate rarely seems to translate outside of the classroom. I have been encouraged by professors to attend plays and football games, speakers on race (Quay Hanna) and panel discussions on religion--all wonderful opportunities which I took part in. Each of these events were also well attended by professors and other faculty/administration.
In stark contrast was the presentation given by David Horowitz on Tuesday night; it is a shame that a nationally known and recognized speaker of very high credentials was virtually ignored by the wider campus community. No classes were required or even (apparently) encouraged to attend, very few professors sat in the audience (though I commend those who did) and Horowitz passed quietly into the night. The main message of Horowitz's talk was on Academic Freedom in higher education. Schools proudly proclaim that they do not discriminate on race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation, etc.--strikingly absent from the list is political ideology.
One professor in attendance on Tuesday when asked to name three conservative professors in the social science departments, not only couldn't do it, but didn't even bother to try--Was it an exercise in futility? Horowitz made an intriguing, if not completely convincing, case that the faculties of higher education routinely push a liberal agenda in many, if not all, subject areas and that they inject a quiet, but virulent strand of anti-Americanism into young people. Of course this was dismissed by some in attendance (It couldn't happen at Ripon!). But it does, a panel discussion on the death penalty featured only professors against the practice...so much for discussion. Apparently a foreign language professor here at Ripon recently mused that he/she wished President Bush were dead! I hope he/she is thankful that in this country no Gestapo is even now knocking at his/her door. Again and again captive and impressionable audiences under the power of authority figures are made to listen to the diatribes of those authorities that are, sometimes malicious, and quite often, completely unrelated to the subject matter.
The very next day I received an e-mail on the Ripon College Reading Experience for next year where the book is to be "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America" by Barbara Ehrenreich who Amazon.com says, "writes with an unabashedly liberal slant." The book, which details how America has failed millions of citizens, will be introduced not only by the author in the fall but also by a Democratic candidate for the State Assembly in the midst of a heated election year. So instead of fostering dialogue, the same view, that America is failing, will be offered twice with no official opportunity for rebuttal. Keep in mind that those for whom the program is specifically designed are young students fresh out of high school whose powers of discernment are not yet fully developed (though we should hope they will be at the end of four years). Why not read a book on the success stories that abound within our great nation? (There are certainly many.) Or read one that tells the good and bad of America, OR read one that is apolitical entirely. I am disappointed with the selection but not surprised, since some of my required readings in everything from FYS to education to politics/religion have had a liberal and/or anti-American tone to them (not that the terms are synonymous). I am not asking for Pat Buchanan to be appointed to the faculty or for Jerry Farwell's memoirs to become the RCRE, but I would like to see balance -- a balance that is currently lacking. I would like to see conservative students not made to feel ignorant for their beliefs and more conservative professors on staff here. I would like to see the "Academic Bill of Rights" implemented in this college and all others to ensure that the politics of students are as protected as the race or gender of the same. Next year, I plan to attend the RCRE programs as well as any speakers the College Democrats bring in, and unlike Tuesday night the audience will be well populated with professors, and while they were not present for Horowitz at all, the college president and other administrators will be the first to greet the speaker and this newspaper will put it on the front page in contrast to their absence of [coverage of] Tuesday.
I will attend because I recognize that dialogue is essential for the development of ideas within oneself as well as for true progress in society. I realize that the only people afraid of dialogue are those who are unsure of their own convictions. I realize that systematic censorship of any principle and/or set of ideas is akin to totalitarianism, that a one-voice system is much more befitting the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea than it is the democratic people in the republic of the United States, a fact which I hope will always be true.
So let's put aside partisan differences and put the "liberal" back in this education that we are all seeking; let's liberate young minds to think for themselves once again. Do it for education, do it for the nation, do it for yourselves...just do it. Let the debate begin, though I hope that, in this instance, where freedom, equality, and the good name of this institution itself is at stake, little debate is necessary.