Pick your favorite: mine is “Tutugate.”
For at least five years, our university has been marred by frequent controversies pertaining to speakers sharing their views on campus. In such cases, the inability of opposing parties to effectively communicate and receive information with their intellectual opponents has brought the issue to a fever pitch. The blunt remarks of Ben Kessler at Spring Commencement seemed to open this rattlesnake’s cage in ‘06. And based on the recent Bulletin article “University launches effort to address society’s growing lack of civility,” it seems the snake is still slithering on the drafty tile of Aquinas Hall.
I use the snake illustration because I believe this issue has indeed snake-bit administrators into a position of what seems to be perpetual hesitation and damage control. Because these authorities must appear evenhanded, they are often forced to limit debate to issues that cause minimal discomfort to the status quo. Moreover, this response solicits the least criticism today and is therefore easy. As a result, we have significantly increased our propensity towards sterile discussions and debased debate.
But now we have reason to hope. I find the ostentatiously ambitious approach of administrators from the College of Arts and Sciences and Student Affairs to provide national leadership on this issue very commendable. Indeed, civil discourse is vital to the health of any university as it is the only base from which contentious parties may learn from each other. But like many things, the devil’s in the definition, and the meaning of “civil discourse” is itself subject to contention. If we are to move beyond the politically correct attitude that has lead to our current state, we must be clear in our future approach.
This approach must start with the recognition that each student, staff, and faculty member enjoys a challenge. We are confident in our beliefs because they are logical, researched, and consistent. We express them in a manner that is informative to the listener, and we invite criticism and objection from those who disagree. We are not embarrassed to alter our views when confronted by a superior argument because we know this leads to constructive compromise. Moreover, we believe this process benefits us immensely as an institution in the long run. It is inherently respectful and civil.
Perhaps more importantly, this approach must guarantee our individual rights as independent minds to listen to anyone we choose. We each contribute to the health of our university in some unique way, and our distribution of speaking facilities should reflect this to the greatest extent possible. In short, we have the right to say what we wish, and we have the right to hear what we wish. We recognize no issue is too taboo and we do not grow offended when we are exposed to conflicting evidence. This is because we know these demons will haunt us if they are not exercised from time to time.
Finally, this approach must encourage friendship and sportsmanship when our debates have ended. We recognize the humility in the human condition and our susceptibility to error- even in our well-intentioned pursuits. We laugh together more often than yell.
Although these seem like idealistic platitudes, they are attainable if we are committed to them. Their encouragement is a hallmark of western liberty and eastern integrity. If we follow a less libertarian track to civil discourse, it will be the wrong one. We will learn less from each other and from ourselves.
Brady Narloch, Senior
Finance and Economics major