When I was a child my wise father used to tell me that college teaches you “what” to think, while university teaches you “how” to think. Some people thought that was a knock at colleges but it absolutely was not. My father was a tradesman and fully understood the value of being teaching how to do something from business administration to carpentry. Universities on the other hand were a special place that not only allowed, but in fact demanded, new adults think rationally through diverse, often aggressively conflicting views, so that they can make their own informed decisions.
Of course that is in a theoretical world while real world universities are comprised of professors, and faculty, and unions, and many outside institutions like funding agencies, that all want their position to be front and center.
This is a very interesting three minute video on the topic which we refer to later in this article:
However much Universities had their thumb on the scale to one side or another on any given issue when I attended in the late 1980’s, I still feel that I was given the freedom to disagree with my professors and their supporting organizations. I had many arguments with professors and other students about the correct role of government or business ethics. The key word their is “argument”. We had to construct arguments and avoid ‘fights’. From talking to my two kids that are both in different Universities today and from media reports, I’m not sure that is the case anymore.
So many universities are correctly accused of being “woke” with all of the nasty intent that that word now comes to evoke, while other universities are correctly accused of being so right wing they are blind to the valid positions of the middle or the left. The ‘other’ side is no longer someone to win-over, it is someone that is fundamentally flawed and as such an ‘enemy’ to be defeated.
Recently I watch a report on this topic and learned about the Kalven Commission report on Universities in 1967 which said:
A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.
The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic.Harry Kalvne Jr – University of Chicago – 1967
In university I honed my business skills and was taught that corporations should not take political or social positions because:
- By definition, taking one position means that you are criticizing the other position which at least some of your clients, vendors, government regulators, industry bodies, and staff will hold.
- If a company takes a position on one public issue, it is going to be expected to take public positions on many issues and some of those it will flat out ‘get wrong’ or conflict with its stakeholders
This means you will be annoying and therefor limiting your potential market.
It doesn’t take a political scientist to see that virtually all politicians run afoul of their constituent groups in less than a decade resulting in previous supporters turning against them. It is impossible to take the “correct” position all the time because often there is no correct position.
Some may say that as long as you stick with the majority view your business will be fine, but of course that is nonsense. If you take the majority view on 10 issues in which 95% of your constituency agrees with you, it is possible that you’ve just lost 50% of the total market (10 x 5% ‘wrong’)… Keep doing that and you’ll be bankrupt in no time.
The same can be said for universities. Universities should be promoting free speech and the only way to do that is to allow those with opposing views to be heard. Even what you and I “know” are abhorrent views, are important to have a public hearing and if you can’t do that in a university setting I don’t know where you can.