College campuses, with their homogeneous culture, “are in danger of becoming boring,” Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist George Will *68 warned at a talk in McCosh Hall Sept. 29.
Will, speaking at an event sponsored by the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, touted Princeton as an institution where the freedom of exchange of ideas is not an ideal but a reality. Professor Robert George, director of the Madison Program, reflecting on his experiences teaching on other campuses, said he noticed that at Princeton “we don’t shut people down. Our students feel comfortable expressing their opinions on term papers, junior papers, senior thesis, even if they dissent from campus orthodoxies, in most cases even if they deviate from the point of view from the professors who will be grading the exams or papers.”
Both Will and George lauded Princeton for its intellectually heterogeneous culture, not allowing one point of view to dominate the intellectual discourse. George cited John Stuart Mill’s philosophy of seriously considering opposing points of view to enhance oneâs understanding of the subject matter and one’s own position. Will argued for a multiplicity of factions because “small groups with good arguments can make enormous, enormous differences.” He cited the example of National Review and its founding editor, William F. Buckley, who propelled Sen. Barry Goldwater’s presidential nomination and paved a path for Ronald Reagan’s election.
George, citing Mill again, added that moral coercion such as shaming or intimidation does not lead to the pursuit of the truth. He emphasized that only reason and argument, the currency of academic discourse, can help in the pursuit of the truth. “Academic culture is inherently progressive, understanding ‘progressive’ as Woodrow Wilson did,” Will said, but at least one field, economics, has moved to the right in recent decades. He attributed the change to the market of ideas, adding, “The market works, and it will continue to work with the introduction of more conservative thought on campuses.”