Saturday, November 05, 2005

I’m afraid I have some bad news: college students, not just at USM where I observe it but nation wide, are becoming cowards. “You lie!” I can hear you shout it now. But I don’t lie and, unfortunately, I’m not using mere hyperbole to make a point.

Last week I received my first anonymous letters from students. Some of them were pretty funny, like the one with missing and misspelled words complaining about the typos in The Free Press. Some were rather disturbing, being rife with homophobic sentiment and incorrect political accusations. But, there was one that was truly scary. The student was appalled The Free Press would print allegedly anti-religious opinions on its opinion pages.

Holy oppression, Batman! Does only one type of opinion belong in the paper? This issue isn’t so simple that it can be dismissed by flippant rhetorical question. Instead, it illuminates a more ominous threat to universities and colleges across the nation: students are scared of view points they don’t agree with and when confronted with these points, they take it on themselves to say “Hey, you’re not allowed to express that opinion because I find it threatening.” This undermines the fundamental purpose of a college: to create responsible, cognizant citizens who have the maturity, ability and backbone to engage in a civil discourse.

I’m not basing this rebuke of the American college system on just one anonymous letter – that letter just allowed a great intro to my topic. Rather, I encourage you to look at the Academic Bill of Rights. The bill attempts to silence professors from expressing political opinions in the classroom. Last time I checked, college students were adults and wanted to be treated as such. This bill treats college students like elementary school kids. It enforces this idea that we can’t support our own opinions or beliefs when in a dialogue or discussion with another adult.

USM needs to start taking steps NOW to prevent this degradation of discourse. The University needs to make it impossible for students to isolate themselves into little islands of people who only share the exact same view points they hold. The Board of Student Organizations should withhold funds from the Catholic Newman Club and the Pagan Association until members from each group participate in a worship ceremony of the other group’s tradition. The same goes for the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship and the Baha'i Campus Association or, politically speaking, the College Republicans and College Democrats.

Well, I guess I should go prepare for the flood of angry letters I’ll be getting for accusing college students of becoming cowards. But, if you want to prove me wrong, sign your name to that letter and engage in discourse with professors rather than trying to silence them.

For those of you who don't know, I currently edit a weekly college newspaper. Recently, I opted not to publish this letter from the editor so other voices on the campus could be heard..

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