student discussion debate conference
UW-Madison Senior Rebukes Censorial Commenters, Defends Open Debate

By on November 14, 2013

University of Wisconsin-Madison senior Alex Schaefer penned a passionate defense of the virtues of free and open debate this week in student newspaper The Badger Herald, responding to the reaction of the paper’s readership to a controversial letter to the editor. Schaefer was disappointed that many comments to the letter advocated stifling the author’s ideas and viewpoints, with some decrying the decision to publish the letter, and one going as far as suggesting that the letter be “reported” to the school.

Recognizing the crucial role that the free exchange of ideas plays in developing and reaching informed conclusions, Schaefer cogently argues that instead of seeking to silence opposing viewpoints, those who disagree should debate the merits, ultimately leading to what John Stuart Mill famously termed “clearer perception and livelier impression of truth.” This is particularly so in the university setting, which he notes “is premised on this type of engagement.” Schaefer concludes with a plea to his fellow students:

Attempts to thwart this process of free discussion, whether formal or informal, leave us intellectually poorer. The “sifting and winnowing” that is characteristic of free debate — and ominously absent in most responses to Hookstead [author of the controversial letter]— shines though in such pieces as Hayley Young’s letter to the editor.

I suggest we emulate Young and Hookstead, and address opposing ideas with argumentation rather than institutional or emotional manipulation. This is good for the University of Wisconsin and good for us.

Read the full article here.

Image: Students discussing free speech at FIRE’s student conference

Schools: University of Wisconsin – Madison