Some random thoughts and questions concerning the University of Oklahoma and Sigma Alpha Epsilon…
As I have repeatedly argued in this column, I believe in classical liberalism: in intellectual liberty and freedom of thought; in academic freedom and open debate. The liberal arts academy was founded to educate a free people and free culture and as a classical liberal, I believe in the power of Truth. The antithesis of truth is human opinion and opinions always enslave. Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, and Robespierre all had opinions and history shows us it didn’t end well. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free…” I trust the Truth.
I also contend that thoughtful conservatives are often more “liberal” than many of their progressive counterparts. Stop and think about it. Who is really more interested in a robust and open exchange of ideas? As a conservative, I want to talk about Darwinism, human origins, global warming, economic redistribution, the moral assumptions for same sex marriage, the differences between sexual inclinations and sexual identity, and the effectiveness of teaching kids to use a condom rather than to obey the Commandments. I don’t want to shut down the debate. I want ideas to be judged by Truth. I trust it to win!
With this context, I do have to ask a few questions about OU’s SAE story: Are we really at the point in our culture where we are willing to sequester ideas we find foolish, thoughtless, insulting, and dumb? Do we embrace the words of Voltaire, “I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” or do we now live in a country where unwanted thoughts and unwise speech can be declared verboten? If so, what ideas are next on the list of unacceptable thinking? What about statements against abortion? What about supporting Israel’s right to self-defense? What about disagreements over the definition of marriage? How about teaching American exceptionalism or comparing Christianity favorably to other religions? Will ideas that run contrary to popular opinion on these matters create a “hostile” environment on campus and are there some in the faculty and administrative ranks at OU who would suggest that the proponents of these objectionable ideas, likewise, be silenced?
If the judge of acceptable discourse is the Ubermensch (i.e. superman), rather than the Supernatural (i.e. laws of nature and nature’s God), universities seem to be edging toward a campus governed by an ideological Gestapo more so than one honoring ideological freedom. The end result smacks more of a narrative written by Orwell than of a mission written for Oxford.
Some have asked me what I would do: “Would you kick these guys out of school?” Well, it depends. There are tons of words and ideas that I find offensive that do not result in expulsion at Oklahoma Wesleyan. For example, when someone uses the Lord’s name in vain, I find it incredibly distasteful and even vicious – it is blasphemy after all – but I do not automatically kick kids out of school for this insult to God. Instead I consider context. Is the offense private or public? Is the student trying to impede someone else’s rights? Have they harmed person or property? Did their banality deny any other human being his or her freedom of expression or freedom of thought? At OKWU our first instinct is to educate. We instruct. We discuss. We debate. We engage. We confront bad ideas with good ones. We trust the Truth to squash the lie.
Talking Points With President Piper is a weekly column featured in the Examiner-Enterprise newspaper. In addition to serving as the Oklahoma Wesleyan President, Dr. Everett Piper is also a frequent guest commentator on a variety of talk radio programs across the nation, as well as a published author and essayist.