Opinion: Thoughtful disagreement and freedom of expression on campus


David Perron

Thoughtful disagreement is important in any organization. Different viewpoints and ideas allow us to learn and stress test our ideas against others. Lafayette College is at a critical point in the direction of its future. At a time when the school is trying to become an elite academic institution, moving towards need-blindness which schools such as Harvard and MIT have; we need to keep in mind the importance of thoughtful disagreement and freedom of expression.

The few conservative professors at Lafayette are leaving or worried about expressing their views. Retired Professor Don Chambers told The Lafayette last year that Lafayette “has shifted in politically correct, intolerant direction” and “there’s little freedom of expression if you don’t agree with the ruling party.” I argue liberal ideologies are pushed so often that we are losing our ability at the college to truly express our opinions and to think freely.

President Byerly seems invested in showing her liberal views to the community. She indicates her political views through letters she has signed. The Lafayette reported one of the letters she signed asks the government to uphold the Paris Agreement on climate change. According to Philly.com, Byerly “see[s] these letters as not being about political positions but being about values.” I am not against the Paris Agreement. Since Byerly’s actions represent those of the entire college, I believe it is inappropriate for her to participate in signing politically-charged letters.

Last year, during a student march against President Trump, a Lafayette student shouted Make America Great Again out of his window. Instead of ignoring this student and continuing their march, Lafayette students decided to go into his dorm, knocking on every door until they were able to find his room. They verbally attacked him, calling him a racist and forced him outside to apologize. The group circled around the student and forced him to apologize for saying ‘Make America Great Again’. I’m not justifying the student’s actions. I’m saying the group’s reaction was inappropriate, and that it’s scary they could publically shame a student without consequence.

Without freedom of expression we cannot have thoughtful disagreement. And without thoughtful disagreement, how can we expect to ever improve our understanding of the world around us? How can we be free and independent thinkers? The current liberal bias on campus is slowly creating an environment where everyone thinks the same and expresses the same views. If one does not agree with the group, he/she is subjugated. Groupthink according to Forbes “occurs when a team or organization becomes so similar in their outlook that they lose the ability to be creative in their decision making”. There needs to be an active change to the campus environment at Lafayette.