With the volatile 2016-2017 academic year in the rearview mirror, one coalition of professors is imploring students to think for themselves and avoid being "trapped in an echo chamber" when they return to campus this fall.
Fifteen professors from Harvard, Princeton, and Yale published a letter addressed to college students on Monday that emphasized the importance of "open-mindedness, critical thinking, and debate," cautioning them against conforming to pressures applied by the "tyranny of public opinion."
"Our advice can be distilled to three words," they wrote, "Think for yourself."
Here's a key excerpt from the letter:
In today's climate, it's all-too-easy to allow your views and outlook to be shaped by dominant opinion on your campus or in the broader academic culture. The danger any student—or faculty member—faces today is falling into the vice of conformism, yielding to groupthink.
At many colleges and universities what John Stuart Mill called "the tyranny of public opinion" does more than merely discourage students from dissenting from prevailing views on moral, political, and other types of questions. It leads them to suppose that dominant views are so obviously correct that only a bigot or a crank could question them.
The letter goes on to address a point we raised in an editorial this week, urging students to resist the urge to follow the Left's lead and broaden the definition of terms like "bigot" to incriminate non-bigots, a strategy that often results in the censorship of anti-liberal viewpoints on campus.
"Merriam-Webster's first definition of the word ‘bigot' is a person ‘who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices,'" the professors stated. "The only people who need fear open-minded inquiry and robust debate are the actual bigots, including those on campuses or in the broader society who seek to protect the hegemony of their opinions by claiming that to question those opinions is itself bigotry."
The letter's signatories include the widely-respected Princeton philosopher Robbie George, psychologist Paul Bloom, and Nicholas Christakis, the professor who was famously berated by enraged students in 2015 for opposing efforts to censor offensive Halloween costumes.
On the cusp of what's sure to be another tense school year throughout the country, with more professors and students seeking to silence political dissent, the message in this letter is one students desperately need to hear.
It can be read in full here.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.