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Purdue Plans to Invite Freshmen to Pledge Themselves to 'Creed'

Kathy Mayer writes for the July/August issue of the Purdue Alumnus magazine that a new “creed,” currently being written by Purdue University students, will outline for freshmen “what’s expected of those who take on the name Boilermaker.” (The Boilermakers is Purdue’s athletic nickname.) “If you cannot follow the creed, then this is not the place for you,” says Purdue Dean of Students Danita Brown.  Mayer reports that incoming freshmen will be “invited to pledge to the creed.” The creed idea comes from a “Resolution Against Racism at Purdue” presented to the administration by the Purdue Anti-Racism Coalition. It is unclear from the article the extent to which freshmen will be pressured into “pledging,” and the wording of the “creed” has not yet been released, though it will, according to Brown, “state a belief in academic honesty and integrity, and that we will not tolerate hatred, bigotry, injustice, or discrimination.” But despite the lack of detail available at the moment, the mention of any sort of “pledge” should make the ears of all those concerned with students’ rights perk up. Freedom to think what one wants is at the heart of the educational enterprise. A pledge is an affront to this freedom; instead of allowing students to explore and come to their own conclusions about what they value, pledges encourage them to adhere to the truth as those in power define it.  Purdue is not the first educational institution to try to make its students pledge themselves to a creed. In 2011, Harvard University incurred serious criticism, including from former Harvard College Dean Harry Lewis and from FIRE co-founder Harvey Silverglate, when Dean of Freshmen Thomas Dingman pressured freshmen into signing a pledge committing themselves to the belief that “the exercise of kindness holds a place on par with intellectual attainment.” Silverglate explained: “In a world where there is such a difference of opinion as to what truly is virtuous and what is merely vacuous … this arena is one for a student’s intellectual and moral exploration, rather than a fit subject for administrative fiat.” And way back in 1943, in the middle of World War II, a group of Jehovah’s witnesses challenged a law in West Virginia requiring students to pledge allegiance to the United States flag in the landmark Supreme Court case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943). In his majority opinion Justice Robert Jackson wrote: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”  Let’s hope the Purdue administration will take heed.

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