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The ‘Charlotte Observer’ Gets It Right

There few issues that cause more passionate debate on campus (and elsewhere) than affirmative action. While many campuses have stifled that debate by, for example, censoring conservative protests, UNC Charlotte did the right thing—permitting both the affirmative action protest and a counter-protest by the program’s supporters. This boisterous exercise in free speech triggered an outstanding editorial (registration required) from the Charlotte Observer, entitled “When Ideas Clash.” Money quotes:

Whatever you think of affirmative action—or of the method being used to protest that policy—what just happened on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte is what is supposed to happen in a free society.

Two groups of citizens got together to have their say. Along the way, there were objections and hurt feelings. At the end, most still disagreed. But each side left the wiser for defending its beliefs, and for having posed a challenge.

That’s a textbook exercise in the First Amendment, conducted entirely by students. You can’t silence an idea just because you disagree, or are offended. You have to stare it in the eye, and argue it down.

These statements should be a matter of common sense, but on today’s repressive campuses, the Observer’s stance is nothing less than revolutionary. Importantly, the Observer also recognizes the necessity for resolve in the public debate. One cannot wade thin-skinned into the marketplace of ideas. Vigorous debate requires a measure of moral courage, and the Observer’s call for us to take an idea, “stare it in the eye, and argue it down” is exactly what we need to hear.

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