What Students Should Have Heard

Recent events on college campuses have prompted college leaders to pledge much to their students. Here is what students needed to hear.

Dear Campus Community:

In recent days, we have heard many voices on and off campus. We have listened to concerns about the campus culture and curriculum. We have heard your demands for greater diversity. And we confess that we have failed you for too long. We have engaged in nothing short of educational malpractice -- refusing to stand firm in defense of free speech and refusing to insist on foundational courses that powerfully situate current debates in historical context. We intend, now and forever, to address our failings since the health of our country depends upon it.

Let there be no mistake, our campus is and will continue to be a place of inclusion and diversity, where all students are challenged to perform at the highest level, where individual talents and aspirations are admired and promoted.

Our campus will not shy away from addressing the challenging issues of the day. Racism has been a cancer within American society and the consequences must be addressed. Our institution should rightly be at the forefront of that discussion, offering a place for honest scholarship and rational debate.

Accordingly, we will not capitulate to strong-arm tactics. We will not tolerate -- indeed we will discipline -- members of this community who engage in the heckler's veto. And we will not allow disinvitations or trigger warnings to insulate our students from reality or encourage witch hunts through illusions of micro-aggressions. We welcome protest that draws attention to issues; but we will sanction members of our community who disrupt a class, library, or lab since we also value the freedom of students to study and learn.

Fostering friendship and civility is important, but it can never supplant our central mission: teaching and scholarship. The primary purpose of our institution is to follow truth wherever it may lead and to create an environment where faculty and students may challenge the prevailing orthodoxies, without fear or intimidation. In the next few days, we will release a policy outlining our support of intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas and we will ensure that it is distributed widely and discussed vigorously.

In response to your demands, we are committed to transforming and strengthening the curriculum and intellectual diversity. We seek to empower you with the knowledge and skills needed to perform effectively as citizens and in your careers. We pledge to expend whatever it takes to create a strong and coherent core curriculum that will provide a common foundation of learning and a common conversation. We will no longer settle for the "do it yourself" grab bag of courses that exists today.

For starters, we will mandate a survey of American history so that your assessment of America and its place in the world will be grounded in an honest introduction to America's strengths and weaknesses -- what we have done well and what we need to reform -- and to a greater understanding of who we are and what we stand for.

We will couple this course with a concentrated study of the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights, to ensure that all of us understand the rights and responsibilities they establish. We will mandate survey courses on Western and Eastern Civilizations so that you, students, may be relieved of the crippling presentism and solipsism that inform popular culture. And we will insist that you be empowered by proficiency in foreign languages, knowing that the very best understanding of other cultures comes through their own language and literature. We will ensure that you study math, science, literature, and composition so that you can thoughtfully critique what is in the news and powerfully express yourselves when you are aggrieved, and when you are happy.

At the same time, we apologize for treating college as an expensive country club, replete with sushi bars and climbing walls. We recognize now, too late, that this approach has led to the ever-rising cost of a college education and, unconscionably, has limited access, leaving you, the next generation of leaders, with great debt and little to show for it.

Going forward, we shall be a platform, not for therapy, but for the dedicated pursuit of truth, accepting that hard work and honest evaluation are central to that pursuit.

We are glad to have had this opportunity to respond. Indeed, we thank you for bringing us to our senses.

Sincerely,

Campus Leaders