Universities across America are in a state of acute intellectual decay. Replacing a millenia-old tradition of discussion and debate, a stifling liberal consensus now dominates many campuses. Administrators often succumb to student pressure to disinvite unpopular speakers, while those few who do make it to campus are often shouted down or attacked. In response, some right-wing students have resorted to inviting speakers that are needlessly demagogic, making serious discussion even more difficult. Informed and civil debates are sadly rare on college campuses.
While deeper understanding of racial, cultural, and other identities is certainly welcome, our generation’s outsized focus on identity politics now obstructs serious intellectual debate. Disagreement is often misconstrued as a direct affront on the person and their identity. Ideas are judged more for their sensitivity than for their merit. This is entirely unproductive. Debate and disagreement ought to be recognized as crucial facets of the university experience, rather than forms of violence. Political intolerance threatens students’ intellectual growth as well as the integrity of civil society.
At our publications, we observed that Stanford’s unwavering political consensus prompted writers to ask to publish anonymously; they feared being judged, even shamed, by friends and professors for their unpopular opinions. Beyond our writers, a growing number of our peers felt increasingly uncomfortable with college campuses’ surging ideological homogeneity, suppression of opinions, and outright violence. Our peers wished to hear more unorthodox views and engage with notable thinkers across the political spectrum.
In response to these concerns, Stanford has launched Cardinal Conversations: a speaker series to promote intellectual diversity and serious grappling with difficult ideas. The campaign is sponsored by both the Hoover Institution and Freeman Spogli Institute, endorsed by President Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Drell, and conceived by students. Each event in the series will be a discussion, rather than a debate or lecture, between two intellectuals holding distinct views. The subjects of these conversations will range from technology and politics to populism and inequality.
The events will feature disagreement, but not simplistic liberal-conservative duels. Speakers will be challenging and thought-provoking, but not crass or demagogic. Professor Niall Ferguson, one of the co-sponsors of the series, vociferously distinguishes it from other attempts to ignite debates about free speech, such as the Stanford College Republicans’ invitation of Robert Spencer or the Berkeley Republicans’ invitation of Milo Yiannopoulos. Cardinal Conversations is not looking to throw bombs or stir up controversy for the sake of it; speakers will be provocative thinkers, not inflammatory performers.
For the inaugural Cardinal Conversation, on Jan. 31, Peter Thiel and Reid Hoffman will discuss technology and politics at Hoover’s new Hauck Auditorium. Many audience members will take issue with Thiel’s contribution to the Trump campaign. Others will argue that Silicon Valley lobbies more than is appropriate. Nevertheless, it would be intellectually dishonest — and ignorant — to outrightly dismiss positions different from our own. Whether we reject or accept their arguments, we will refine our own positions by hearing novel ones. Noted speakers later in the series – Francis Fukuyama and Charles Murray, Anne Applebaum and Ted Koppel, and Christina Hoff Sommers and Andrew Sullivan – will likewise present thoughtful arguments for us to contemplate.
Through Cardinal Conversations, we will combat the university trend of ideological conformity. We will prove that Stanford students can ponder significant, sometimes uncomfortable ideas, without firing slingshots or smashing windows. We call on our peers to take seriously our responsibilities as both students and citizens by learning from these speakers rather than shouting them down. At Stanford, we will reaffirm the necessity of the free exchange of ideas. It is time for meaningful debate and discussion to return to the university campus.
The Stanford Daily was unwilling to sign this statement.
The Editorial Boards of The Stanford Review and The Stanford Sphere