FERGUSON: Universities must welcome conservative speakers

By shutting down guest speakers, students and university administrations hurt the intellectual environment of campuses

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Extra security was hired for Tom Garret's town hall, in anticipation of protestors and potential conflict

Alexis Gravely | Cavalier Daily

Incidents at several colleges over the past couple years demonstrate how certain student bodies and administrations have marginalized conservative perspectives and actively attempted to stifle voices which dissent from liberal doctrine. For example, Virginia Tech’s leadership disinvited Wall Street Journal columnist and Manhattan Institute senior fellow Jason Riley out of fear that his presence on their campus would incite uncontrollable protests in response to his 2014 book titled, “Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make it Harder for Blacks to Succeed.” Although Virginia Tech later reinstated his invitation, it did so only after receiving pressure alumni and donors. Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State under George W. Bush’s administration, canceled her scheduled appearance as Rutgers University’s commencement speaker in 2014, as a result of receiving an openly hostile response from the student body. Similarly, Ben Shapiro, a conservative commentator and advocate for Zionism, was banned from DePaul University’s campus due to security concerns. College and university communities must correct the trend of silencing dissent instead of embracing it in order to make colleges and universities welcoming places for all regardless of viewpoint and to advance the pursuit of knowledge. 

America’s economy and society have been made better by allowing the free market to guide selection — allowing the best products to sell and the most meritorious people to succeed. The market for ideas and solutions to problems we face is no exception. The silencing of conservative voices at liberal colleges is a shame because it disregards our nation’s tradition of free speech and artificially hinders the competition of ideas. The four years spent pursuing an undergraduate degree are wasted if your convictions, opinions and beliefs go unchallenged. That is not to say that you have to accept viewpoints you don’t agree with. It does mean, however, that you should listen to and embrace your challengers instead of silencing them. Students who protest controversial or provocative speakers often censor introspective and enlightening thought counter to what they believe, stifling true intellectual growth. 

It is especially important for colleges to expose their students to diverse viewpoints by inviting speakers because students are most likely not getting those perspectives from their professors. According to a study conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, 60 percent of college professors described themselves as “liberal” or “far-left.” The study further concluded that liberals outnumber conservatives five to one in academia, despite the fact that a greater percentage of the American public describes itself as conservative than liberal. In certain specific academic disciplines, the trend of left-leaning professors is even more pronounced. Only five percent of social scientists in academia self-identify as conservative, while approximately 18 percent self-identify as Marxist. 

It is paramount for the University to remain open to diverse viewpoints in order to better serve its students and reaffirm the importance of free and open discourse. Fortunately, the University has done its part to uphold those convictions. Despite protests from student groups and area residents, the University hosted Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) at Garrett Hall on March 31, 2017 for a town hall with his constituents. The University had to deploy dozens of guards to provide security, measures which were seen as necessary given that Garrett and his family had received several highly-concerning death threats. We should all applaud the University’s efforts to uphold open discourse in spite of the inconvenience and extra cost it incurred for hosting the event, even if we may disagree with Garrett and the policies he endorses.

Unfortunately, certain signs of growing intolerance at the University are manifesting themselves. According to several conservative members of the University community who attended a Student Council sponsored town hall to discuss the Black Student Alliance’s list of demands, they were met with rude and disrespectful behavior from certain supporters of the list. They reported it was disheartening to see such immature and close-minded responses. Our University community must not accept such behavior and should instead maintain a high degree of civility when engaging each other in order to combat the growing trend of silencing dissenting voices. 

Thomas Ferguson is a Viewpoint writer for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com

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