New York (January 27, 2016)—Responding to the Black Lives Matter and other campus protests of recent months, the National Association of Scholars (NAS) published a major statement on the purposes of higher education. The statement responds to calls by protesters to erase the names and images from college campuses of historical figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, and Cecil Rhodes.
NAS president Peter Wood, author of The Architecture of Intellectual Freedom, said that these calls, though presented as exercises in academic freedom, actually undercut it. “In seeking to suppress images, names, and ideas, and prevent others from expressing their views, the protesters efface the promise of freedom,” Wood said. The statement argues that colleges and universities do more than prepare students for their careers, and more than answer students’ thirst for knowledge. Higher education, says the statement, is primarily about teaching “young men and women how to be free.”
To accomplish this, according to Architecture, colleges and universities must treat “intellectual freedom” as a core value. But to sustain intellectual freedom, colleges and universities must brace it with other powerful principles. The statement explains that intellectual freedom does not mean the freedom to hide from ideas and points of view with which students disagree. “Hearing directly from people you disagree and listening carefully to what they say is indispensable,” says Wood.
Wood said intellectual freedom is like a stone in an arch. “It cannot hold itself up in midair. But when it is buttressed by other stones, the arch is powerful. The other stones are a genuine diversity of ideas; the colleges’ curriculum; respect for individual independence of mind; treating those who disagree with civility; and pursuing the truth, no matter if runs against your prior beliefs.”
“Many students are missing this foundation,” Wood explained. “They demand the right to protest but don’t realize that, on campus, such protest comes with the obligation to let others have their say.” Wood said that both supporters and critics of the campus protesters often misunderstand the doctrine of academic freedom. “Freedom on campus is not just for speaking your mind. It is for listening to others, seeking truth, and shaping ideas worthy of respect.”
About the National Association of Scholars
The National Association of Scholars is a network of scholars and citizens united by their commitment to academic freedom, disinterested scholarship, and excellence in American higher education. It upholds the standards of a liberal arts education that fosters intellectual freedom, searches for the truth, and promotes virtuous citizenship.
Contact: Peter Wood, President
(917) 551-6770, [email protected]
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