Liberal Education
Cause for Hope at Middlebury

After protestors on campus sent a professor to the emergency room last week, Middlebury College professors Keegan Callanan and Jay Parini wrote a statement of principles that they published in today’s Wall Street Journal. As of early Tuesday afternoon, 48 of their colleagues had joined them in signing it. The declaration is an unequivocal and eloquent defense of liberal education properly understood:

Genuine higher learning is possible only where free, reasoned, and civil speech and discussion are respected.

Only through the contest of clashing viewpoints do we have any hope of replacing mere opinion with knowledge.

The incivility and coarseness that characterize so much of American politics and culture cannot justify a response of incivility and coarseness on the college campus.

The impossibility of attaining a perfectly egalitarian sphere of free discourse can never justify efforts to silence speech and debate.

Exposure to controversial points of view does not constitute violence.

Students have the right to challenge and to protest non-disruptively the views of their professors and guest speakers.

A protest that prevents campus speakers from communicating with their audience is a coercive act.

No group of professors or students has the right to act as final arbiter of the opinions that students may entertain.

No group of professors or students has the right to determine for the entire community that a question is closed for discussion.

The purpose of college is not to make faculty or students comfortable in their opinions and prejudices.

The purpose of education is not the promotion of any particular political or social agenda.

The primary purpose of higher education is the cultivation of the mind, thus allowing for intelligence to do the hard work of assimilating and sorting information and drawing rational conclusions.

A good education produces modesty with respect to our own intellectual powers and opinions as well as openness to considering contrary views.

All our students possess the strength, in head and in heart, to consider and evaluate challenging opinions from every quarter.

We are steadfast in our purpose to provide all current and future students an education on this model, and we encourage our colleagues at colleges across the country to do the same.

There are over three hundred academic staff at Middlebury College. Parini and Callanan say they will update the list as more faculty sign it until March 11. Every faculty member at any institution which wishes to call itself a liberal arts college should be able to add his or her name to this list.

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