Is There Hope For Heterodoxy On Campus?

Joe Alton Contributor
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Among the many examples of intolerance by the illiberal left, the incident when writer Charles Murray came to speak at Middlebury College was, perhaps, one of the most heinous. It’s said that every cloud has a silver lining. Is there one here?

Granted, Dr. Murray, a political/social scientist whose 1994 book “The Bell Curve” discussed genetic differences in intelligence and related issues, has been a controversial figure. The book received much critical attention and caused him to be branded a white nationalist by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Invited to speak by the college’s American Enterprise Institute Club and then be interviewed by a professor, Charles Murray was just the kind of heretic against whom intolerant college students and faculty love to protest. In this case, the demonstration consisted of turning their backs on the speaker, reading a prepared statement loudly in unison, and generally preventing any meaningful dialogue.

Dr. Murray and the liberal professor who was there to challenge him were forced to a separate room to record the interview. This attempt was scuttled when students pulled fire alarms and pounded on windows. The protesters topped off their display of moral superiority by becoming violent, sending the Middlebury professor to the hospital with a concussion. The protesters also employed a common, although illogical, strategy against speakers being run off campus: They blocked his car so he couldn’t leave.

The orthodoxy of today’s college faculty and students seems to be a juggernaut, leaving in its wake the crushed bodies of opposing opinions. Nowhere is a conservative thought tolerated, not to mention red hats that say “Make American Great Again”. Sites such as socialistworker.org encourage and help plan out strategies to silence non-leftist opinions in our colleges. Is there any hope for a heterodox (one with a divergent viewpoint) on campus?

The conventional wisdom and current realities say no, but maybe there is. A group of Middlebury professors were disturbed enough by the violent demonstration to bravely go when few academics dare: To the defense of free speech. 25% of the school’s faculty joined the Heterodox Academy, a group of academics devoted to promoting unfettered expression at our universities.

The Academy, now with 2500 members, catalogues incidents of prevention (and encouragement) of free speech on campus. Much of it is discouraging, but occasionally, a ray of light emerges: Northwestern University’s student government recently passed a resolution calling for more viewpoint diversity on campus. This was a rare event as it originated with the students, rather than the administration.

Even some liberal noteworthies are defending the concept of heterodoxy vs. orthodoxy in education. Van Jones, former Obama official and current CNN pundit, condemns the fragility of today’s college students. He laments the notion that today’s students need to be safe emotionally and he refuses to “pave the jungle” for them. To them he declares: “You are creating a kind of liberalism that the minute it crosses the street into the real world is not just useless, but obnoxious and dangerous.”

He’s right. The left convinces no one when a challenge to their orthodoxy is only met with tantrums. Screaming bloody murder at a heterodox for disagreeing with them is, as Jones says, obnoxious and dangerous. The protesters’ certitude that their side is right prevents discussion of why an opposing opinion might be wrong. You’ll just have to take their word for it.

The violent shaming tactics of the illiberal left may intimidate the majority into silence. In 2016, however, this intimidation didn’t extend to the voting booth, much to the chagrin of Democrats. Donald Trump as president, Northwestern’s student government, college faculty joining organizations devoted to diverse opinions. Maybe there’s hope for the heterodox, after all.