On behalf of The Daily Editorial Board, I would like to take a moment to respond to some of the criticism we received over last Monday’s editorial (“The pitfalls of social engagement inside the classroom,” April 23). While we appreciate the passion with which some readers have responded, we feel much of the criticism is off-base. I will primarily refer to the arguments put forth by Holly Fetter ’13 in her response op-ed, which we as a Board view as largely representative of the substantive criticism received thus far
First, the response letter implies that we do not value courses and major programs that engage issues of identity and power. In our editorial, we explicitly stated that we “[acknowledge] the importance of some Stanford courses directed at this goal.” Our primary claim, rather, was that these courses should not comprise a majority of the University curriculum, just as courses in technical learning should not represent a majority of the University’s offerings. With this stance, we hoped to actively engage the Community Action Board’s (CAB) letter to the Faculty Senate, which we felt was vague in addressing the level with which to engage curriculum with issues of identity and power. For instance, although we think engineering curricula benefit from courses in ethics or identity, we do not think a class on thermodynamics should engage with these social issues.
Second, and most concerning to us, is that there has been a profound misreading of a sentence in the original editorial. The sentence reads: “A view of liberal arts education in which courses should become training grounds for social activism threatens to marginalize thinkers who fail to engage in socially relevant questions or who present less tolerant views on women, minorities and privilege.” As this was the concluding sentence in a paragraph that opened with mentions of Aristotle and Nietzsche, we were surprised to learn that some, Ms. Fetter included, have interpreted the word “thinkers” to mean “Stanford students.” This was not our intent, as we were referring to prominent philosophers and scholars whose views may not accord with present-day sensibilities; we stand by the original wording as appropriate to convey our message.
Finally, we never labeled the CAB members as “activists” for the views expressed in their letter. It is only natural to want to be properly represented in the University and its curriculum, and we value how the letter serves to add much-needed nuance to the SUES report. In short, we are not afraid of “being ignorant, overwhelmed and outnumbered.” Furthermore, we are disappointed that a significant portion of the online response consisted of idle speculation and ad hominem attacks, rather than thoughtful discussion on the points our editorial addressed.
Our primary aim of the editorial, rather, was to open a dialogue on the subject of the role of social activism inside the classroom. We opened the door for a debate with our interpretation of the CAB letter alongside the promotion of a view of liberal education that strikes a balance between the opinions of Hoover fellow Peter Berkowitz and other conservative voices in higher education with the opinions of those who have been critical of his primary arguments. We feel this is a debate worth having – we ourselves discussed it for a long stretch of time – and we encourage the discussion surrounding our editorial to focus on that normative question.
Adam Johnson ’13
Chair of The Stanford Daily Editorial Board