On April 4, The National Review published an opinion by Stanley Kurtz titled ‘What’s the Matter with Vassar,’ in which the author denounced the campus community for silencing conservative voices. In particular, he suggested that the Vassar College Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign’s March 29 walkout of a lecture by fossil fuel advocate Alex Epstein is emblematic of Vassar’s participation in a national trend of extreme anti-conservativism in higher education.
Soon after publication, Kurtz’ column appeared on Vassar’s social media networks and quickly spread across campus. Although we at The Miscellany News feel that Kurtz’ column is a 2,000-word hyperbole, we agree with his sentiment that the Vassar community can and should do more to encourage better, more respectful discourse from all sides of the political spectrum.
In the column’s introduction, Kurtz wrote that “a climate of political intimidation was present at Vassar well before the advent of the divestment movement.” But just one sentence later, he seemingly contradicts himself when he references an opinion piece published by The Miscellany News, which openly criticizes the one-dimensional culture of our Political Science department. The very fact that such an opinion—as well as many others in the Miscellany and other student publications—was printed, read and discussed, flatly contradicts Kurtz’ assertion that “the divestment campaign [stokes] a climate of fear that touches not only conservative students, but even moderates, who dare not draw the ire of this new campus crusade.”
Kurtz also makes incredible leaps in logic, associating the actions and views of many with the actions and views of few. For instance, after referencing a private conversation between Will Serio ’13 and Julian Hassan ’14 in which Serio allegedly suggested that Epstein be paid not to come to campus, Kurtz claimed that this “signifies the near-collapse of the ethos of classic liberal education,” thereby anointing one anecdotal sound bite symptomatic of college-wide trends. Throughout his column, Kurtz suggests that true debate cannot be held outside of the liberal/conservative dichotomy. This is a gross oversimplification. Debate flourishes at Vassar and other college campuses on topics that transcend the political binary, simply because not all debates are political in nature; Kurtz’s assuming such evinces a lack of understanding of the epistemological processes that are afoot within the liberal arts framework, one that he critiques but clearly does not comprehend.
But hyperbole aside, we agree that Vassar’s tendency toward divergent views, particularly conservative opinions, must be improved. Without making judgments about any political ideologies—be they right, left or center—we encourage the Vassar community to remain open to thorough discourse and seek, not shun, divergent opinions.
First, we must respect those with whom we disagree. We must allow everyone to come to the table as equals and engage in level-headed discourse. When students attend lectures in masks, or express hostility towards speakers as they did last month and last fall when Gloria Steinem came to Vassar, they detract from everyone’s experience, inciting fights instead of encouraging debates.
Next, we must not shut out opposition. By isolating ourselves from challengers, as the Divestment Campaign members did when they walked out of Epstein’s lecture and began their own ‘talk-out’ in Josselyn House, we weaken our own positions and detract from our own intellectual growth. Deliberately marginalizing other students’ views does not send the message that their opinion is not worth hearing; instead, it sends the message that we are not willing to embrace the productive discourse engendered by informed dissent.
We must use the opportunities afforded to us as students of Vassar College to explore and grow—not to create bubbles around ourselves in which everyone is in agreement. By shutting the door on thorough discourse, we leave everyone out in the cold.
–The Staff Editorial represents the opinion of at least 2/3 of the Editorial Board of The Miscellany News.