Oppression of Innovation

By on December 17, 2010

by Miriam Leigh Creach

Albert Einstein summed up the true essentials and purposes of higher education when he said, "[e]verything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom."  Universities are a key element in innovation and the future of the world, but how is a university to foster such innovation if its students are oppressed? By oppressing students, universities are hindering the learning that they should be fostering, the creativity and originality that they should be encouraging, and the future of the world that often rests in their hands. By taking the constitutional rights of students, universities are, in turn, taking away from the potential of those students.

Taking away a student’s rights is not only constitutionally unacceptable, but it also goes against the supposed principles of universities. To take away a student’s freedom is also to take away his or her complete education. It is impossible to truly learn under a one-sided, biased system due to the fact that learning requires freedom to grow as an individual. If each student were expected to "learn" the same thing, nothing new would ever be accomplished or achieved. Even more literally than the cases of learning being hindered by oppression of creative thought, learning is also being hurt by censoring the materials making it possible. As in the case of Keith John Sampson, not only was his potential to learn infringed upon by oppressing his opinions, it was quite literally taken away by taking away the book that he had been using to learn. Reading that book was an act protected by the Constitution, and was an act that should have been encouraged by a university that supposedly fosters learning. Censorship of such things as books takes from students the opportunity to educate themselves and thus move forward in their learning. Such means of learning are vital to a student’s education as they encourage creativity and individual thought that will further the advancement of that student and of the world as a whole.

Unfortunately, by oppressing students, creativity and individual thought are also compromised. When a university takes a student’s rights it is also taking that student’s potential to grow and to make a difference. All of this should be the purpose of a university. Universities should not be designed to encourage one idea or one opinion, as was seen in "Think What We Think… Or Else: Thought Control on the American Campus." Rather, they should be designed to encourage everyone’s individuality and create an environment for personal and community growth. With no opposing views there can be no innovative solutions, and innovation should be what universities strive for. What good is education if every graduate has been taught to think the same, act the same, and compromise their own beliefs and ideas? There is no good in this; in order to advance, new ideas must take place and students should be encouraged to bring their individuality to the table to produce something new that has the potential to change the world. In the video about thought control it must be seen that no matter what a student’s differences in thoughts or opinions, those differences are vital to education. Students should not be encouraged to ignore their own ideas and beliefs and settle with the ideas and beliefs that are laid out in front of them. What is the point of higher education if no new ideas are produced? The world already has the old ideas, so why bother teaching these? Without disagreement and debate, no innovative solutions can be reached.

Another instance of oppression and violation of rights can be seen in the case of Emily Booker, who was forced to undermine her beliefs for those of a professor. Professors should be encouraging students to make a career based off of personal beliefs and ideas, not those of the professors, for this will not get students anywhere. If a student such as Emily is discouraged from bringing his or her own individuality into his or her education then it is not only that student, but also his or her classmates and, ultimately, everyone in the world, who will lose out. Each student has the potential to influence the world and the future, and it is a university’s job to encourage and foster this potential.

For this reason, by undermining the constitutional rights of students, universities also run the risk of undermining the benefits the world could be receiving and the constitutional rights of America in the future. If students are not given the chance to learn and grow freely then their potential is being hurt. The students attending universities are likely to be the future of America and possibly of the world, and as such it is necessary to create a proper environment to prepare them for this. An environment of oppression will not produce the same possibilities as might be produced in a free environment. If the means of learning and individual thought are restricted by universities then what the students can learn and later offer to the world is also restricted. In addition, if universities oppress students’ constitutional rights, the constitution itself could possibly be put in jeopardy. While this may be extreme, it still goes to reason that if some individual’s rights are taken, there is no solid protection of other individuals’ rights. If universities are allowed to oppress the rights of their students, then what validity does the Constitution have? The Constitution does not state that personal freedoms are to be given to all citizens under the Constitution except students of public universities. The Constitution cannot be valid in one circumstance and yet not in another; if exceptions are to be made the Constitution could lose its validity entirely. Universities are a place to become part of the future, but if this future generation is taught under oppression and violation of rights, progression is hardly possible.

To create that which is great and inspiring it is necessary to create an environment that is fit for innovation and progression. To do so it is essential that personal rights are protected in order to protect tools for learning, and new thoughts and ideas. Such tools, ideas, and thoughts may prove to be controversial, but all the better. Without disagreement there can be no progressive solutions. These are crucial to education and to our future. For this reason it is a university’s job as an institute of higher education to encourage learning free of oppression.