College: An Intellectual and Moral Wasteland?

When I was in high school, I was often warned about the road ahead. My church’s youth leaders painted a dark picture of public universities as a place with no moral standards. College was supposed to be a place of assaults on Christianity in the classroom and depraved behavior outside of it. I was told that my beliefs wouldn’t be respected, that moral deviance was the norm and that the university would be openly hostile to Christianity. In effect, I was told I was moving into Sodom and Gomorrah.

When I got here, I found out that a large percentage of the student body at this university profess the Christian religion. There are a multitude of Christian religious groups with membership in the thousands. Most of my professors do not make mention of their religious or political views in class, and more than a few made positive references towards Christianity. Acts of moral depravity of all sorts were more often a product of the rumor mill, rather than something I witnessed firsthand.

It turns out, the rumor mill was what most people back home were going off of. The Sodom and Gomorrah, Bart Ehrman-will-turn-you-into-an-atheist-communist-hedonist mindset was nothing more than the prognostications of people who knew only of twisted second and third hand stories.

I’m proud to report that the University of North Carolina is in fact a place of healthy intellectualism. For every person taking a position on an issue (be it political, social or religious), there is likely to be someone to counter it. In this environment, both sides’ arguments are made better by the existence of opposition.

Rather than avoiding them, we should all listen to people who oppose our views, for the simple reason that competition breeds improvement. When our own ideas are challenged by conflicting ideas, our ideas are refined into something better. In other cases, our ideas are bad and they get tossed out.

This Darwinist competition of ideas breaks down when outside factors intervene to try and stop the competition. By and large, Carolina has been free of this. There have been some exceptions where one faction has attempted to shut down the voice of another. However, such examples as the controversy over Carolina Students for Life, SDS/YWC, or the Board of Election’s abuse of campaign laws have been the exceptions rather than the rule. By and large, the competition of ideas flows freely each day on campus. And I am thankful for that.

Now, many would say the state of morality in the United States is far below an acceptable standard. However, this has been true of every civilization throughout history. The fact is, people are less than perfect no matter where they are.  Human progress is an illusion. Hence, I am not going to single out the University as a place of exceptional immorality, because it does not appear to me that this university is any more or less moral that American society as a whole. The problem is not with this university’s administration or its student organizations, but with American society at large. America’s institutions are a reflection of its people. Any attempt to reform public morals by reforming university administration is like trying dam half a river. The current will still flow, it will just be re-directed slightly for a while and it will eventually erode the dam.

In short, our University is not an intellectual wasteland. Rather, it is a hotbead of intellectual discussion, which is exactly what a university should be. This competition of ideas can only benefit our society. If ideas are allowed to be expressed and evaluated freely, truth will come out on top. Like economic markets, this competition stops working when interlopers begin to fiddle with stuff in an attempt to engineer their own desired result. Attempts to control the competition of ideas usually backfire on whoever is attempting the controlling. People begin to wonder: What are they trying to hide? What are they afraid of?

Be they conservative Christians or anti-“hate speech” liberals, interlopers who attempt to control the competition of ideas not only produce unintended consequences, but they betray their own ideas. If they have faith in the truth of what they believe, the superiority of their ideas should be self-evident and they should not need to seek other means to ensure that their ideas are adopted.

Fortunately, although the competition of ideas is not flowing freely in many parts of the world, it is flowing much better at UNC than at most places. We have an atmosphere of exceptional intellectual vitality, and we should strive to keep it that way.

11 thoughts on “College: An Intellectual and Moral Wasteland?

  1. Riley Matheson Reply

    “Be they conservative Christians or anti-”hate speech” liberals, interlopers who attempt to control the competition of ideas not only produce unintended consequences, but they betray their own ideas.”

    Putting “hate speech” in quotations seems more than little dishonest, considering that you’ve referred to YWC’s relatively mainstream views on immigration “deeply morally offensive.” See what I mean about you being just like a liberal? Oh, I’m sorry–keep forgetting: You don’t mind being called a liberal.

    I bet it felt good writing this blog. Too bad it’s BS. The Left completely controls the dialogue on this campus, and anyone with eyes that see and ears that hear knows this.

  2. njr Reply

    Dear Johnny,

    Considering the fact that China and India alone account for a third of the world’s population, I’d say that whites were already a minority. What’s your point?

    And Chris, let’s not delude ourselves here. The left dominate this entire campus. You cite those “exceptions”, but those are rather large “exceptions”. Considering that the Carolina Review, and allegedly “conservative” publication allows someone as far to the left as you to write, I’d say the influence of the left is rather apparent.

    I’m not quite sure what classes you took, but in the 4 or 5 history, religion, philosophy classes that I took, I don’t believe that I EVER had an “ally”. I couldn’t even find another Catholic that would stand up for the Church in any matter. Considering that every classes in some manner, attacked the Church as being evil incarnate, I agree with the claim that at least Catholicism is and was constantly attacked. It’s fine to attack it, but in my own experience, it was incredibly one sided as it seemed that only the Catholic Church could do wrong.

  3. Duke Cheston Reply

    “Acts of moral depravity of all sorts were more often a product of the rumor mill, rather than something I witnessed firsthand.”

    Chris, I love you, but this totally misses reality. Maybe you haven’t witnessed these things first hand, but you’re not a member of a fraternity and you definitely haven’t met my suitemates from freshman year. Anonymous sex, illicit drugs, widespread cheating in school, and worse– it all happens, even if you don’t see it.

    Also, while free exchange certainly does take place (to a certain extent), it is also true that the playing field is skewed heavily to the left. Liberal propaganda abounds. For instance, one of my textbooks described the Communist takeover of Nicaragua as “euphoria.” Seriously. My teacher was just as bad. This may not be the case for all poli-sci classes, since this was my only experience in that department, but it certainly seems to be, as suggested above by njr.

    And, contrary to what you seem to suggest, the best ideas do not always win, at least in the since that they do not proliferate and hold influence. If they did, and bad ideas were chucked aside, then there is no way we would have so many anti-American leftists at UNC.

  4. cwjones Reply

    Duke, I only have my experiences to go off of here. My experiences obviously did not match yours. I’ve only had one class with a Poli Sci professor and I still have no idea where he stands politically because he didn’t introduce his personal views into the classroom. The only professor that I have had who held forth is political views on a regular basis I agreed with 90% of the time.

  5. zd Reply

    All departments at UNC lean left, including Peace, War & Defense, if I am not mistaken. However, some are over the edge and others are interested in rational discourse. Of course, how we feel about professors’ openness to discourse probably depends a lot on which department we are taking most of our courses from.

    Departments at UNC praise – and choose textbooks that praise – murderous Marxist regimes in central and South America. Other departments give aggregate demand a godlike status, and yet others promote social-class warfare in the classroom.

    That’s what I’ve seen so far. I hope, and somewhat expect that to change to reflect the sentiments in this post.

  6. cwjones Reply

    The manager of the PWAD department is a strong conservative, and I have no idea what the chair’s politics are because once again, he didn’t interject his personal political views into the classroom. I have yet to take a class with a liberal PWAD professor. I’ve heard that one exists, but I haven’t taken any of his classes.

  7. Riley Matheson Reply

    You see, Chris, this is exactly what I’m talking about. It seems that most conservatives disagree with you, or at least the few ones posting on this discussion board. Conservatives are ostracized on this campus. They’re made to feel as if they were a different breed of people. The topics on which they can speak, without being called bigots, are getting progressively restricted. Perhaps the fact that you haven’t felt thus ostracized should concern you? Perhaps you fit in a little too well? Were you not on campus in the months leading up to last November? Did you not hear about what happened when Obama’s victory was announced?

    One of the most dangerous things in the world is to underestimate the influence that your surroundings have on you. Liberalism is in the very air that is breathed in Chapel Hill, and so, yes, it does influence everyone–the only question that remains is HOW it influences you. Does it make you a better person for overcoming the attempted indoctrination, or does it conquer you subtly?

  8. cwjones Reply

    Part of the reason why liberals outnumber conservatives at UNC is the myth that UNC is a liberal hell hole. This discourages conservative students from applying and enrolling.

    Other staffers seem to have mis-understood my post. There are more liberals than conservatives at UNC. I never denied that. But what I’m saying is that, with some exceptions, by and large there is not a suppression of alternative views.

    “Were you not on campus in the months leading up to last November?”

    I was. I proudly wore a McCain/Palin 2008 button for several weeks. I received far more compliments than put-downs.

    I understand where you are coming from on this issue, given what has happened to your organization’s events. However, other conservative speakers such as Robert Spencer and even far right speakers such as Ron Paul and Bob Barr have been able to speak on campus without such incidents. I’m not even going to get into the religious speakers…there have been so many of them with so many varied views it’s hard to sum them up.

  9. Riley Matheson Reply

    “Part of the reason why liberals outnumber conservatives at UNC is the myth that UNC is a liberal hell hole. This discourages conservative students from applying and enrolling.”

    Come on, Chris. Do you honestly believe that? Are you now saying that UNC isn’t a liberal hellhole? And even though conservatives realize that UNC is a liberal hellhole, I honestly don’t think that this discourages very many of them at all from applying. If I had the opportunity to do it all over again, I’d still attend UNC, even though I feel personally betrayed by my alma mater, and will probably not be making many more trips to Chapel Hill, unless it’s to visit the few professors whom I have greatly appreciated.

    YWC’s “alternative view” on immigration, which is held by a great number of apple-pie- and baseball-loving Americans, was called “bigotry,” “hate speech,” “racist,” and all sorts of other unbecoming names. Even though this behavior is not, legally or technically speaking, the suppression of alternative views, it nevertheless causes a social climate that is highly uncomfortable for conservatives. It is thus, in a moral sense, suppression because no one wants to be ostracized, or treated as the weirdo whom everyone else wants to distance himself from.

    And that’s exactly what happened to YWC. We were painted as the weirdos who held “extremist” positions. Who wants to join a club full of people who hold “extremist” opinions? Even when the campus was trying to prove that it was tolerant of “alternative views,” it nevertheless never missed an opportunity to throw in the typical line: “While we don’t agree with YWC,…” Everyone felt that he had to be perfectly clear about his disagreement with YWC before he went on to defend YWC’s right to free speech. Growing a conservative movement at UNC is like growing lilies in the Sahara.

  10. Riley Matheson Reply

    Also, I’d like for everyone to think about the word “alternative” and what is suggests about our campus. If it suggests the idea of “one of two (or more)” views, then my point isn’t very strong. If, however, it suggests “the other” view (conservatism, of course, being “the other”) in relation to “the one” (liberalism, of course, being “the one”), then it’s pretty clear that it’s not easy being a conservative in this atmosphere. Thus, although you can think and say what you want, you are going to be highly uncomfortable doing so unless you toe the line.

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