College Mission: Encourage Diverse Views But Protect Democracy

Michael S. Roth , President, Wesleyan University

October 25, 2022

(photo via unsplash)

Excerpt cross posted from The Boston Globe. 

Citizens & Scholars is proud to publish a series of diverse perspectives on citizen engagement and democracy from our network of Fellows and partners. 

As we defend the processes of democracy and the most vulnerable members of our community, we must also protect the rights of all students on campus. This includes ensuring that those who identify as conservatives are not further marginalized by our efforts to protect the democratic process. We must not confuse the rejection of authoritarianism with a partisan suite of policy judgments about domestic and foreign affairs. The defense of democracy always includes the defense of one’s right to express views other than the majority’s. We must not encourage campus authoritarianism just because there seems to be a local consensus about what it means to be progressive. 

A broad, inclusive college education is so valuable because through it we learn to reason together. We learn to engage in ongoing conversations with people different from ourselves and whose views we might find objectionable. This serves the country as a whole by creating habits of open-minded discussion and practiced, free inquiry. The authoritarianism we see growing in the United States and around the world pulls apart the very fabric of liberal education and would make it impossible for us to continue this work. 

We in higher education must energetically cultivate democratic values — including freedom of expression, rights to representation, and the protection of the vulnerable — at home on our campuses. And we must take a stand against the would-be strongmen who threaten these values in our country and beyond. As educators, we should encourage our students and colleagues to join us in fighting for basic democratic rights. And should that fight be lost in America and the capacity to reason together be rendered pointless (or even persecuted), what then becomes of a genuine education? The nature and mission of our colleges and universities will change fundamentally. That so many are demanding just that should be warning enough. 

Read the full editorial here 

Michael S. Roth is president of Wesleyan University. His most recent book is “Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College Campuses.” 

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