The cancellation of Senator John Cornyn’s commencement address at Texas Southern University has dealt the latest blow to intellectual diversity this commencement season.
I know President Austin Lane, having worked under him as an instructor at Lone Star College, Montgomery when he was president, and with him when he was a Vice Chancellor at LSC, where I am a trustee. I think Austin was trying to do the right thing in inviting Sen. Cornyn to speak on campus in the first place. And I think TSU is trying to do the right thing when after Cornyn’s cancellation officials said, “We asked Senator Cornyn to instead visit with our students again at a future date in order to keep the focus on graduates and their families.” Senator Cornyn did help in securing federal funding for historically black colleges. It would of course be foolishly counter productive for TSU to bite the hand that in part feeds them.
On the day before the commencement address, 863 TSU people signed a petition demanding that administrators block Cornyn from speaking. But the reasons are political, not racial: The petitioners oppose “Cornyn and his political party,” his support of Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions, his opposition to federal funding for sanctuary cities, and other political positions the senator has taken. They wanted commencement to be a “safe space,” not a place for intellectual diversity.
On the day of commencement, the Wall Street Journal so happened to run an article by Michael S. Roth, president of Wesleyan University, acknowledging that he “identifies with the political left” but ‘’welcomes intellectual diversity,’’ adding that “as a teacher, I know that education requires it.”
He makes the following bold confession: “To create deeper intellectual and political diversity, we need an affirmative-action program for the full range of conservative ideas and traditions because on too many of our campuses they seldom get the sustained scholarly attention that they deserve.”
He further makes a statement that you will see on virtually no campuses these days: He and the trustees have “created an endowment of more than $3 million for exposing students at Wesleyan to ideas outside the liberal consensus. This fall, our own academic departments and centers will begin offering courses and programs to cover topics such as ‘the philosophical and economic foundations of private property, free enterprise’ and ‘market economics’ and ‘the relationship of tolerance to individual rights, freedom and voluntary association.’” President Roth deserves wide praise, but the cartel of consensus “group think’’ will likely think otherwise.
No one puts the issue with better insight than John Stuart Mill: “If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility. Though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.”
I see seeds of hope for the understanding of Mill’s vision by the administration at Texas Southern University. Their invitation to Senator Cornyn in the first place and their re-asking that he visit the school later shows intellectual diversity and wisdom. That is the Austin Lane I had come to know and worked with for some eight years.