Ross Douthat of New York Times on Campus Pluralism

Ross Douthat of New York Times on Campus Pluralism March 21, 2014

Ross Douthat, columnist for the New York Times, published a NYT piece this week pointing out that allegedly “pluralistic” college campuses are struggling mightily to make good on their promises. In his piece, Douthat references the problems conservatives and Christians are having at different schools, and he links to my American Spectator piece, “God and Sexuality at Bowdoin,” on my alma mater, Bowdoin College:

You can see this dynamic at work with conservative Christian groups on a number of elite campuses right now — precisely because of issues related to “sexual modernity,” their ability to invite speakersfind advisers and gain university recognition is being chipped away at and constrained. (This chipping-away often involves demanding that religious groups promise not to discriminate on the basis of beliefs or behavior — a rule that’s allegedly intended to encourage pluralism within campus organizations, but has the actual-practical effect of reducing the space for ideological diversity writ large.) But even when the pressure is more informal, the effect is similar: Pluralism is absent or limited on our allegedly freethinking campuses precisely in those arenas where a robust theory of pluralism-as-social-good suggests it would be most valuable.

Read Douthat’s whole piece, which is excellent.

The Washington Post recently covered the memorable actions of Dr. Mirreille Miller-Young (picture above left), a UC-Santa Barbara professor of feminist studies who apparently stole a pro-life advocate’s poster, compared her to a terrorist, scratched her arm (leaving a bloody mark), and destroyed said poster in her office, a “safe space,” according to her. Whether or not your pro-life work involves graphic signs, this was a stunning assault. Miller-Young, by the way, teaches not only feminist studies but “pornography” and “sex work,” all on the tax dime of the good citizens of California.

Details aside, here’s what you need to note about all this: Miller-Young not only defended herself as any fallen person would, but went so far as to say in the official police report that she had a “moral” right to act as she did. Don’t miss this part; don’t glaze over it. In that comment, you’re getting a little picture of the worldview of the intolerant modern college campus. Schools and professors like Miller-Young profess to value diversity and to offer wide-ranging tolerance, but they are acting the opposite way. They are shutting down organizations they don’t like, forcibly silencing those who disagree with them, and doing so under the banner of morality.

Douthat’s piece references a striking editorial in the Harvard Crimson in which a student columnist urged the university to stop granting professors “academic freedom” and to start pursuing “justice” as an institution. For the columnist, “justice” looks like countering “heterosexism,” among other things. In other words, the university or college is not to be an intellectual melting pot, a pluralistic mini-society welcoming many different viewpoints. It is instead supposed to be an activist entity, championing some causes while silencing, excluding, and marginalizing others.

This is shocking stuff for elite schools. This is what appears to be happening at Bowdoin, where the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship chapter, on campus for over three decades, has had its official student group jeopardized. At Stanford, a group that wanted to bring in traditional-marriage advocate Ryan Anderson has had a $5,600 security fee assessed to it, an outrageous sum that seems punitive in nature. Do not miss what is happening on these campuses: some groups are welcome, some are not.

Many American colleges and universities operate by a pluralistic mindset. But as these developments show, this is in increasing measure a pluralism in which only a privileged few can operate. Others will be bullied, marginalized, and ultimately excluded. That’s true whether you simply want to hold a Bible study at Bowdoin or hold up a sign at UC Santa-Barbara.

Will fair-minded people of varying worldviews stand for this, or work for genuine pluralism and fairness?

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