Program seeks to foster ‘informed and civil debates’ at Stanford
Seeking to reverse the recent trend of hysterical political controversy on campuses across the country, a new speaker series coming to Stanford University will promote and foster “informed and civil debates” in an effort to present “challenging and thought-provoking” dialogue there.
“[O]ur generation’s outsized focus on identity politics now obstructs serious intellectual debate,” the editorial boards of the The Stanford Review and The Stanford Sphere write. “Disagreement is often misconstrued as a direct affront on the person and their identity. Ideas are judged more for their sensitivity than for their merit. This is entirely unproductive.”
“Debate and disagreement,” the editors add, “ought to be recognized as crucial facets of the university experience, rather than forms of violence. Political intolerance threatens students’ intellectual growth as well as the integrity of civil society.”
The “unwavering political consensus” on Stanford’s campus, the editors write, compelled writers to “ask to publish anonymously; they feared being judged, even shamed, by friends and professors for their unpopular opinions.” Beyond that, the “ideological homogeneity” of Stanford, the “suppression of opinions, and outright violence” that was popular on that campus, was causing concern among a growing number of students.
In response to these concerns, Stanford has launched Cardinal Conversations: a speaker series to promote intellectual diversity and serious grappling with difficult ideas. The campaign is sponsored by both the Hoover Institution and Freeman Spogli Institute, endorsed by President Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Drell, and conceived by students. Each event in the series will be a discussion, rather than a debate or lecture, between two intellectuals holding distinct views. The subjects of these conversations will range from technology and politics to populism and inequality.
The events will feature disagreement, but not simplistic liberal-conservative duels. Speakers will be challenging and thought-provoking, but not crass or demagogic. Professor Niall Ferguson, one of the co-sponsors of the series, vociferously distinguishes it from other attempts to ignite debates about free speech, such as the Stanford College Republicans’ invitation of Robert Spencer or the Berkeley Republicans’ invitation of Milo Yiannopoulos. Cardinal Conversations is not looking to throw bombs or stir up controversy for the sake of it; speakers will be provocative thinkers, not inflammatory performers.
For the inaugural Cardinal Conversation, on Jan. 31, Peter Thiel and Reid Hoffman will discuss technology and politics at Hoover’s new Hauck Auditorium. Many audience members will take issue with Thiel’s contribution to the Trump campaign. Others will argue that Silicon Valley lobbies more than is appropriate. Nevertheless, it would be intellectually dishonest — and ignorant — to outrightly dismiss positions different from our own. Whether we reject or accept their arguments, we will refine our own positions by hearing novel ones. Noted speakers later in the series – Francis Fukuyama and Charles Murray, Anne Applebaum and Ted Koppel, and Christina Hoff Sommers and Andrew Sullivan – will likewise present thoughtful arguments for us to contemplate.
The speaker series, the editors contend, will “combat the university trend of ideological conformity” and “reaffirm the necessity of the free exchange of ideas,” all while hopefully proving that “Stanford students can ponder significant, sometimes uncomfortable ideas, without firing slingshots or smashing windows.”