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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Thursday, February 07, 2013

Is the University Becoming Something Driven by Fundraising and Fear?

Photo by Donald Lee Pardue
Todd Gitlin, chair of the interdisciplinary doctoral program in communications at Columbia University, wrote an interesting op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times concerning the recent brouhaha at Brooklyn College. It seems the political science department co-sponsored a forum where an anti-Israel group was to provide speakers who would condemn the Jewish state and call for cutting off all economic ties. Given that 15% of Brooklyn's 2.5 million residents are Jewish, the backlash against the poly-sci department was severe and the college quickly found itself in a question of what its role is in providing a voice to people who hold unpopular opinions.

Gitlin used this example of just how far our institutes of higher education are moving from their original role as institutions that expose and build ideas and critical thinking to something... well... less.

He notes the Brooklyn College department chair told disgruntled students that "You and like-minded colleagues should attend the event, voice your views and use this event as an opportunity to generate more dialogue and discussion among students. Perhaps you and your colleagues could even organize a panel discussion of your own."

Gitlin goes on to explain:
With these words, Currah was channeling John Stuart Mill, to the effect that education and enlightenment benefit when minority views are heard, partly because these views may, in the end, turn out to be right to some degree, and partly because the majority, when forced to confront objections, may well find its understanding sharpened and its previously stale views refreshed.

Mill is evidently not so much in vogue now, as Israel-right-or-wrong advocates seem to believe that their case is a delicate hothouse flower that will wither under any adverse exposure.
He sums up the problem with keen insight later in the article when he writes:
There is a sinister pattern at work. Misunderstandings of the purposes of universities run rampant today in an America driven by fear that somebody, somewhere, may be thinking incorrect or unprofitable thoughts. Fundraising is paramount. Established universities expand by raising hundreds of millions of dollars, hoping that the research they cultivate will eventually profit the school financially. This can lead to remarkable new academic ventures, but also to timidity.

Christians have seen this same concept played out in their science classes, their ethics classes, and anywhere else groupthink is only to be allowed. I think Gitlin has nailed some of the problem.

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