Wednesday, August 23, 2023
As the new academic year begins, I have some advice for conservative and religiously observant students who are entering colleges and universities in which their beliefs will place them in the minority, and perhaps make them feel like "outsiders."
You will encounter double standards. Don't be quiet about them. Ask for them to be removed. If necessary, be assertive and persistent, though always respectful, relying on the force of argument and the power of reason. At Princeton, students and sympathethic faculty working together have had a fair amount of success over the years in getting rid of double standards, but we won't stop until they are all gone.
You may experience prejudice, perhaps in grading, perhaps in other areas of your academic or social life on campus. If you do, try to find a friendly faculty member who can guide you and perhaps even advocate for you in addressing the injustice. Ask around to identify faculty members who have spoken out for freedom of speech and viewpoint diversity. (Go to the website of the Academic Freedom Alliance--www.academicfreedom.org--to see if any members of the alliance are on the faculty of your institution.) It's easier for those of us on the faculty to make an issue of it than it is for you to try to do so alone. In any case, we can and--believe it or not--there are some of us who will support you and insist that you be treated fairly and that your right to equal, non-discriminatory treatment be honored.
Do not, however, confuse being challenged or criticized with being discriminated against or victimized. Insist, as we, your friends on the faculty, will insist, on your right to free speech, but remember that other people have that right too. They can use it to challenge and criticize your beliefs--even your deepest, most cherished, identify-forming beliefs. They do you no harm in doing that, just as you do them no harm in challenging their progressive or secularist beliefs. In fact, we do each other a service in challenging each other's convictions.
Remember, as a college or university student you are one of the luckiest--most privileged--people on planet earth. Do not think of yourself as a victim. Do not build an identity for yourself around grievances, despite the double standards, and even if you experience some injustices. You can and should work to set things right without descending into grievance identitarianism.
Thinking is not something that can be outsourced. You have to do it for yourself. Don't let your professors tell you what to think. Don't let popular opinion on campus dictate your convictions. If a professor tries to indoctrinate you, resist. His or her job is to educate you. Indoctrination is the antithesis of education. If there is groupthink on campus, the response it should trigger in you is a desire to probe and question. "What is to be said on the other side? Are there thinkers and writers who doubt or deny the 'consensus'?" If so, read and carefully consider what they have to say. Make up your own mind. Think for yourself.
Don't be a bully and don't let anyone bully you. If you reach a conclusion that defies the groupthink, don't be afraid to speak your mind about it. (In other words, don't censor yourself on a topic that you would otherwise speak about--that is, you would speak about if your opinion weren't out of line with the groupthink.) And defend anyone and everyone else's right to think for themselves and express their views, whether or not you share them. When someone comes under attack or is at risk of "cancellation" by the "outrage mob" for expressing an opinion, stand up in support of that person--again, whether you yourself happen to agree or not. By defending robust free speech for all, you are helping to uphold core values without which the university cannot pursue its mission as a truth-seeking institution. Be the kid on the playground who rushes to the defense of the kid who is being bullied.
Do business in the proper currency of intellectual discourse--a currency consisting of reasons, evidence, and arguments. Challenge your interlocutors to do business in the same currency. Indeed, demand it. If they don't--if they resort to forms of manipulation or to tactics of intimidation--defy them and call them out. Don't hesitate to be blunt in saying, "The name-calling and bullying doesn't work with me. If you've got an argument, I'll be delighted to hear and reply to it. Those are the terms of discussion, as far as I'm concerned. So, do you have an argument, or do you not? I'm waiting."
August 23, 2023 | Permalink
Monday, August 21, 2023
Dear Enrollees in Politics 315: Constitutional Interpretation:
Welcome to our course. My teaching team and I look forward to exploring with you the broad range of principles, issues, and arguments that are its substance.
Please don't be reluctant to speak your mind in our discussions! Even if you hold an unpopular view, please be willing to share and defend it. Also, please be willing to be "devil's advocate" on behalf of views that you do not hold or aren't sure whether you should hold. By robustly defending a controversial position to see whether, in the end, it can be successfully defended, or how far it can be defended, you will be doing all of us in the course a service.
On freedom of speech in our discussions, please see the statement on the syllabus, referencing the University's free speech policies set forth in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities. Princeton students and faculty enjoy the broadest possible free speech protections in all courses and other university activities, but surely free speech should be especially sacrosanct in a course on the Constitution and the rights and liberties it enshrines. At the same time, we value civility--but that does not mean or require that anyone hold or decline to hold any particular view, or that one submit to anyone else's ideas about the language in which issues are to be framed, the terms in which they are to be discussed, or the assumptions on which the discussion will proceed. What it does mean and require is that we all do business in the proper currency of intellectual discourse--a currency consisting of evidence, reasons, and arguments.
Some of the issues we will be discussing are not only controversial, but also sensitive and, to some people, personal. We nevertheless need to discuss them frankly. As our Dean, Jill Dolan, says, we need to be "resilient and brave" in discussing matters that engage our emotions. One thing I can guarantee is this: Whatever your political, moral, religious, and other opinions happen to be, you will encounter in our readings and discussions challenges to them. You may even be offended or scandalized by what some authors or some participants in the course believe and say. Please bear in mind that, as Cornel West has stated, "the very point of a liberal arts education is to disturb and unsettle us." I have deliberately chosen readings representing radically opposed positions on the issues we explore. There is not an official position in the course about who is right and who is wrong about anything. All positions and points of view, no matter how radical or even unjust or immoral they may seem to people who oppose them, are on the table for discussion, scrutiny, and assessment on equal terms. There is no orthodoxy in the course; there are no dogmas. There is no censorship or policing of thought. I hope there will be no self-censorship.
My philosophy of teaching is straightforward and rather simple: My job is not to tell students what to think or induce or encourage them to think as I do; it is, rather, to help students to think more deeply, more critically, and for themselves. What I ask of students is open-mindedness, tolerance of those whose opinions differ from yours, a willingness not only to challenge others but to be challenged in turn, and a genuine and deep desire to learn--and to learn by seriously engaging authors and fellow students whose ideas differ, even radically differ, from your own.
There is never a bad time to study and think hard about the meaning of the Constitution and its guarantees; but this is an especially good time--indeed, an exciting time. We are in the midst of massive national disagreements about issues having to do with the separation of powers, federalism, freedom of speech, the free exercise of religion, due process of law, the equal protection of the law, and more. In my opinion, though it need not be yours, some of these disagreements do not admit of obvious or straightforward answers, no matter how deeply certain partisans on the competing sides are of the righteousness of their causes. In any case, I hope that our deliberations together will enable us all to be better, more constructive participants in the debates, no matter where we come down in them.
August 21, 2023 | Permalink
Thursday, August 3, 2023
A very interesting read from The Washington Post about the "Justins," the two Tennessee Democratic legislators who have been expelled, returned to office, etc., based on their vocal protests in the legislative chamber. They've been compared to the vocal religious leaders of the civil rights movement.
Since their GOP colleagues voted them out of office this spring, state Reps. Justin J. Pearson (D-Memphis) and Justin Jones (D-Nashville) have quickly become 20-something icons whose style, faith and values ring some very familiar bells. They wear crisp suits, intone Jesus, see public protests as essential and define “biblical justice” as care for the poor and oppressed. ...
But 2023 isn’t 1968, including when it comes to the relationship between religion and politics. The Justins are facing a much less religious country, including segments that are cynical and even repelled by candidates who thunder from pulpits about God being on their side. Experts say the Justins’ unusual campaigns, and the strong reaction to them, could both benefit and threaten the progressive movement of which the men are a part.
In our polarized circumstances, the sharp percentage decline in Americans' active religious identification is seen by many as a boon to movements for progressive understandings of social justice. (Religion, that conservative thing, is losing ground.) But that remains a very uncertain matter, as this article indicates, among other things because the decline of active religion has been accompanied by an intensification of the position that religion should be a private pursuit.
Wednesday, August 2, 2023
My colleague, Prof. Gerard Bradley, has a must-read essay in the latest issue of First Things, called "Life After Dobbs." Bradley gives the Dobbs opinions very close reads, and identifies carefully what, on his reading, the case does, and does not, mean. After canvassing the current state of play with respect to abortion regulation, he reports that "post-Dobbs developments are worse than pro-lifers expected, and far worse than most hoped. They cannot but be sobering to pro-life Americans. . . . What, then, is to be done?," he asks.
In Bradley's view, Dobbs turns out to be not only a "neutral", "return the issue to politics", ruling but actually, in "five ways", a pro-life one, that establishes the basis of a legal strategy for protecting the unborn[.]" Check it out!