- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A group of Ivy League professors is encouraging incoming students to avoid blindly conforming to the dominant political narrative on campus.

In an open letter published Tuesday, the scholars from Princeton, Harvard and Yale said their advice to new students can be summed up in three words: “Think for yourself.”

“Thinking for yourself means questioning dominant ideas even when others insist on their being treated as unquestionable,” the professors wrote. “It means deciding what one believes not by conforming to fashionable opinions, but by taking the trouble to learn and honestly consider the strongest arguments to be advanced on both or all sides of questions — including arguments for positions that others revile and want to stigmatize and against positions others seek to immunize from critical scrutiny.”

The letter is signed by 15 academics, including Princeton’s Robert P. George, Harvard Law’s Mary Ann Glendon and Yale’s Nicholas Christakis.

The professors said the central mission of the university is the pursuit of truth and inculcating in students the skills and virtues necessary for lifelong truth-seeking.

“Open-mindedness, critical thinking, and debate are essential to discovering the truth,” they wrote. “Moreover, they are our best antidotes to bigotry.”

Campuses from Claremont McKenna to Middlebury have been marred by violence in response to prospective talks from conservative thinkers.

When former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos tried to deliver a lecture at the University of California, Berkeley, in February, students and Antifa members set the campus on fire.

Berkeley will be put to the test again shortly, when Mr. Yiannopoulos, Daily Wire editor in chief Ben Shapiro and conservative pundit Ann Coulter return to campus in the fall. University chancellor Carol T. Christ has declared a “Free Speech Year” at the liberal stronghold.

In their letter, the Ivy League professors said it requires courage to be an independent thinker on college campuses these days.

“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,” they wrote. “The danger any student — or faculty member — faces today is falling into the vice of conformism, yielding to groupthink.”

They encouraged students not to fall prey to what the 19th-century English philosopher John Stuart Mill called “the tyranny of public opinion.”

“So don’t be tyrannized by public opinion. Don’t get trapped in an echo chamber. Whether you in the end reject or embrace a view, make sure you decide where you stand by critically assessing the arguments for the competing positions.”

• Bradford Richardson can be reached at brichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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