After a petition with 2,000 signatures failed to stop my upcoming speech at Baylor University, and efforts to tear down advertisements for the event likewise produced no result, a group of several hundred students and faculty have now hand-delivered a letter to the university president outlining the case against me.
Amusingly, the letter catalogues a number of the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad things I have been allegedly guilty of thinking and saying, which, in some cases, came straight from the Bible. I am accused of opposing women ministers. This is true, but I shamelessly plagiarized St. Paul on that point. I am accused of saying that the man is the head of the women. Again, that’s from St. Paul: “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3). I should note here that Baylor is supposed to be a Christian university. I am also accused of claiming that men have physical advantages over women in sports. That one is less from the Bible and more from any biology textbook.
The document does not explicitly call for the cancellation of my talk. Instead it merely declares that I pose a “threat” to the “emotional, psychological, and physical wellbeing” of students. The demand for censorship is implied from that premise, though not stated. I have asked for clarification on this point — how could I be a danger to anyone when I am the one being protested? — but I have received no answer. Of course, I already know the answer. It is just something that the protestors always say in these situations. There is no meaning or substance to it.
To be perfectly clear about this, I am simply coming to the campus to give a speech. I will stand at a podium, talk for a little while, answer questions, and leave. At no point will I engage in any activity that could possibly threaten anyone’s safety. I come armed only with ideas. You may disagree with the ideas, but they cannot hurt you. And, in fact, you cannot even really know that you disagree with the ideas until you have listened to them.
That’s the problem with the hostility to open dialogue on college campuses. It’s not just that students who react this way to opposing ideas will never learn what other people think; worse, they’ll never learn what they themselves think. We cannot develop a coherent and original perspective if we have only ever allowed ourselves to be exposed to one set of views. All that happens, when we insulate ourselves from different viewpoints, is that we become more and more unjustifiably convinced of our own rightness and less and less capable of explaining why.
Nothing very bad can happen if you sit and listen to someone share a set of opinions you find abhorrent. We may like to call certain viewpoints “toxic” these days, but they aren’t really toxic. You won’t get radiation poisoning from prolonged exposure. You will come away not sick but stronger. If you listen with an open and critical mind, trying to be as objective as possible, and you nonetheless remain convinced that you are still right and the other opinion is wrong, then at least you will finally have some reason for that conviction. But if you listen and realize that perhaps this other perspective has some merit, from there you will enter into an exciting process of intellectual reexamination and maturation. Either way, you win. You discover that you’re right, or you discover that you’re wrong, or you discover that you don’t really know what you think. However it turns out, you will discover something.
And that’s what education is supposed to be all about.