University coasting off the acknowleged ‘narrow ridge’

by Maxford Nelsen

I entered college planning to graduate a semester early, if possible. Three-and-a-half years later, I find myself with only a matter of days remaining until I take my last final. It is a bittersweet feeling.

However, as I depart, there are three mutually-reinforcing trends that cause me to worry about the future direction of the university.

First is a lack of intellectual rigor among students. I do not mean to say that Whitworth students are not intelligent, because they are. The problem is that, by and large, there is little to no critical discussion of controversial ideas.

Like everyone else, we espouse critical thinking and talking about difficult issues, yet we seldom do it in a genuine way. For instance, take the recent presidential campaign. While there were attempts at having generic political events, there was no real discussion among the student body at large of the major issues at stake. Unlike most schools, Whitworth has no active political clubs, the ones that used to exist having fizzled out for lack of interest. Perhaps we are just too lazy, or perhaps we are afraid of disrupting or damaging our much-touted community. But what kind of community do we really have if it must be sheltered from serious debate?

This tendency to avoid confrontation is bolstered by a second trend: relativistic political correctness, also known as tolerance. There are two issues with this trend.

First, there is an unfortunate tendency for people to be conflated with their ideas. While all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, this deference should not be extended to their ideas or beliefs, especially in a university setting.

Having an intellectually stimulating environment requires that ideas be debated vigorously.

This requires a separation of people from their ideas; students need to be able to accept and process respectful criticism of their beliefs without having their feelings hurt. All people are equal, but all ideas and beliefs are not.

The second issue with tolerance is its one-sidedness. While we “courageously” bring up sensitive topics, they are almost inevitably examined from a single perspective. Issues of race are examined through the lens of critical race theory; gender issues are dominated by feminism; gay marriage is an issue of human rights; capitalism is greedy, socialism is beneficent; free trade is exploitative, fair trade is just; the Israelis are murdering oppressors, the Palestinians helpless victims. To be sure, there are good arguments to be made for each of these positions. But there are also very strong arguments to be made against them that students will seldom be exposed to unless they pursue them on their own initiative. Even if they do, countering the narrative on any of these issues is deemed intolerant, with dissenting students running the risk of being labeled as racists, sexists or bigoted fundamentalists. This is stifling to the intellectual health of the university.

The third trend, secularization, is perhaps the most disturbing of all. When I first arrived at Whitworth as a freshman, I naively hoped to find a Christian university that respectfully stood up for its principles. Like many, I hoped that criticism of Christianity would be allowed and alternative views examined. But I also hoped that Christian refutation would be offered. Though Christian accessories remain, orthodox Christian beliefs are increasingly abandoned as Whitworth seeks to remain relevant by following a step or two behind progressive society and secular academia. Former President of Whitworth Bill Robinson used to speak of the “narrow ridge” that the university walked between being too far to the conservative right and too much on the secular left. Considering Whitworth’s past record, and with official school recognition of gay marriage looking increasingly likely, the “narrow ridge” looks more like it was simply a stepping stone to get over to the left side of the mountain.

This is not the case for each constituent part of the university, but the overall trajectory is undeniable. Still, I am thankful for my time at Whitworth. I have been forced to truly examine and defend what I believe. In some cases, I have had to adjust my views. I sincerely hope every student gets to go through a similar process. Just a final thought: criticizing traditionally-dominant views is now the dominant view. So, if you really want to be a rebel, it’s worth giving traditional ideas a look.

Nelsen is a senior majoring in political science. Comments can be sent to mnelsen13@my.whitworth.edu.

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