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Illiberal Education At Columbia

Kyle Dontoh, a student at Columbia University, writes in the campus paper about a ridiculous attempt to stifle free speech in the name of protecting students from having to hear opinions they don’t like.

The conference was about “The Family In Modern Society.” Here was the line-up of speakers:

  • Sherif Girgis, Yale University
  • Professor Lynn Wardle, Brigham Young Law
  • Professor W. Bradford Wilcox, University of Virginia
  • Professor Paul Kerry, Brigham Young Law
  • Dr. Robert Lerman, Urban Institute
  • Dawn Eden, Author

According to Dontoh, who supports same-sex marriage, it was a great program:

The lectures were thoughtful and incisive—so much so that I quickly discarded my original plan of staying for a few sessions before returning to work. The speakers, to a T, were academics who based their arguments and presentations on facts and reason, not on bigotry or prejudice. Only one speaker, author Dawn Eden, made an argument based on religious grounds, and her lecture, “Everything is Tolerated and Nothing is Forgiven,” was about chastity and dealing with the excesses of permissiveness, not about the LGBT community. Only three speakers broached the issue of same-sex relationships, and only two of those three explicitly passed judgment on these relationships.

Even then, the arguments were made on strictly rational grounds. Lynn Wardle outlined the case for traditional marriage on the notion that the family was the original, fundamental building block of society as envisioned by the Founding Fathers. Disagree as I may, this was not the rambling of a bigot. This was a reasoned, principled argument based on a fundamental respect for the LGBT community coupled with a specific interpretation of American history.

As I listened to the issues—both agreeing and disagreeing at times—I felt a particular sense of excitement, picking up viewpoints I have seldom heard since coming to Columbia.

But he wondered how come there were so many empty seats in the lecture hall, given that it sold out. It turns out that Columbia University Democrats had obtained a large number of those tickets. They used them to protest the Girgis lecture. As Girgis delivered a talk making an argument for traditional marriage, the CUD crew stood silently and held signs protesting his point of view.

Dontoh, the op-ed writer, was annoyed that the CUD people not only misrepresented on campus what the conference was about, but also denied others the chance to hear what was said. He hasn’t yet learned that extremism in defense of gay rights is no vice.

A reader who teaches in a university sent that item, and writes:

Thought you would find this interesting. It is anecdotal, but it confirms many of my intuitions as one of the few conservative professors on Earth: most young people have been systematically brainwashed to accept a meta-narrative about views contrary to liberalism that is simply not true. But it often seems so compelling, and it is uttered by the right and smart people, that they have never had a reason to doubt it. They have been told two things they firmly believe are non-negotiable: (1) people who reject lifestyle liberalism are either wicked or stupid; and (2) open-mindedness and tolerance are virtues fundamental to the common good. You would think the latter would cancel the former, but it doesn’t. Why? Because the former ensures that the latter will not be extended to a contrary meta-narrative. It keeps guard over liberalism so that it seems, on the one hand, generous and affirming, while it functions no different in principle than religious dogmas that to its adherents seem open and liberating but to outsiders constraining and narrow. This is why conservatives are bewildered as to how a liberal can say they believe in “marriage equality” while at the same time not extend that understanding of equality to other free institutions, e.g., churches, synagogues, the Boy Scouts, etc. If “marriage quality” is a good for the institution of marriage, why isn’t it a good for other institutions? But such a concession would put the two dogmas in tension, and that can’t happen. So, for example, we are to believe in “marriage equality,” but not “school equality.” For the latter would undermine the indoctrination monopoly, which continually reinforces the two dogmas as non-negotiable first principles.


This student from Columbia had a chance to peek under the curtain and see that dogma (1) is false. But if dogma (1) is false, then liberal coercion on lifestyle matters is unjustified, and thus unjust. This is why (1) is the greatest of the two liberal dogmas. This is why, I believe, a sustained, careful, generous, gracious, winsome, and intelligent articulation of conservatism—although it may not win the culture war in the short run, or even the near long run—is the only way to chip away at the two dogmas. It will cost some people elections and careers (and speaking from personal experience, I narrowly escaped that fate), but it is the only way out of the abyss. Make your case, do it intelligently, winsomely, and with a generous spirit, and students, like the one at Columbia, will take notice. They may not give up liberalism, but they will likely give up tyranny.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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