Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Defending Higher Education In An Era Of Alternative Facts

The President of Bard College publishes an open letter to university presidents.  He reminds them that our university system plays a number of critical roles in our society.  Chief among them is teaching our students to be critical thinkers.  That is the ability to determine the validity of arguments by examining the evidence and logic behind the arguments.  It has never been easy for universities to play that role.  There are external as well as internal problems for any institution that promotes an open mind to ideas and puts them to a test of reason and debate.  It is particularly difficult today when many of our political leaders find it convenient to protect false statements, and poor policies from criticism.  Too many of our leaders even deny science when it leads to inconvenient truths.  They tell us that climate scientists have made up facts to serve their own interests.  They tell us that medical science promotes the use of vaccines which cause autism. Even worse, some of our leaders accuse those who examine the evidence for their false claims to be enemies that cannot be trusted.

We are also reminded that our system of higher education is one of our most important assets.  It attracts brilliant students from across the globe to our country.  They play a critical role in producing intellectual capital that provides the basis for our global leadership in many industries. They help us to lead the world in medical science, the pharmaceutical industry and a host of digital technology industries.  Our political leaders have done their best to discourage the influx of talent from coming to our country because it is politically convenient to create a climate of fear to win elections.

The bottom line is that university presidents need to band together to protect one our most valuable assets.  We live in a time when "draining the swamp" promotes a brain drain that weakens our democratic system as well as our economy.

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