‘Feeling the Chill’

By May 3, 2005

Check out this excellent editorial from the Daily Egyptian, the student newspaper of Southern Illinois University. The paper is responding to a recent controversy:

A professor chose a controversial account of a series of race-related murders in California as option reading for a history course, which provoked outrage among other faculty members. After much public criticism, the professor apologized, stopped distributing the article and made no assignment related to it.

Once again demonstrating that students often understand the importance of free speech better than their elders, the editorial continues: 

Our constitutional right to self-expression is one of our dearest freedoms, one that arguably preserves the concepts upon which our system of government is founded. By protecting dissent, we make the majority accountable to the minority.

We take it as axiomatic that a university, and the broader system of education of which it is a part, exists as a “marketplace of ideas.” In this marketplace, innovations and new concepts survive on their own merits. If an idea has merit, the outraged sensibilities of those invested in conventional thinking ultimately prove irrelevant.

The editorial also makes this crucial point that college and university administrators so often fail to grasp:

Another troubling aspect is the insistence by some that the students who were presented with the article were not yet capable of critical thinking and were therefore susceptible to corruption. This paternalistic attitude flies in the face of all freedom. It is not the University’s mission to shield soft young minds from offensive ideas, and the ability to think critically cannot be developed when people are denied the opportunity to think in the first place.

Kudos to the Daily Egyptian for demonstrating why administrators don’t need to insulate college student from challenging ideas. Faculty and administrators underestimate the independence, intelligence, and wisdom of their students at their own risk (and, in this case, at the risk of being publicly schooled on the basics of living in a free society).

Schools: Southern Illinois University at Carbondale