Clay Jenkinson returns to Vail Symposium to discuss turmoil on college campuses
- What: Conversations on Controversial Issues moderated by Clay Jenkinson: Higher Education and the Culture Wars
- When: Wednesday, March 22, 2023, 6-8 p.m.
- Where: Vail Interfaith Chapel | Vail
- More information: Tickets are $25 in advance, $35 the day of the program. Please visit VailSymposium.org for more information.
Vail Symposium launched its “Conversations on Controversial Topics” with humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson in the summer of 2022. Jenkinson returns on Wednesday, March 22, for the latest installment discussing the culture wars in higher education.
“We aren’t shying away from tackling tough topics at the Vail Symposium,” said executive director James Kenly. “Universities have always been environments ripe with student angst — no decade in recent history is without a few major headlines — but things seem to have taken a distinctly different direction with the advent of social media and the climate of political polarization. ‘The Academy’ isn’t the safe space for exploration and maturation that it used to be.”
A rising tide of intolerance characterizes higher education. The crisis comes chiefly from the left, though the curriculum at our colleges and universities is being assailed both by the right and the left in America’s culture wars.
Controversial speakers are shouted down — sometimes assaulted — as they attempt to speak their minds. Certain ideas and works of literature are decried by leftist faculty and students. Courses in the core curriculum are frequently disrupted by loud protests. Some works of the western canon have now been tacitly banned at some universities for their failure to conform to emerging standards of social justice. Courses in the humanities are increasingly characterized by political and social indoctrination rather than a sincere attempt to explore the world of ideas. Students who are not sufficiently infused with the right terminology and the right ideology are now frequently shunned, ostracized or openly denounced as bigots, racists, homophobes, colonialists and misogynists. Robust discourse and debate have yielded to a new and ruthless orthodoxy.
From the right, usually led by people outside the university, there has been an assault on what is characterized as “critical race theory,” i.e., the idea that racism has been one of the central dynamics of American culture from the beginning; that complicity in the tragedy of American race relations touches everyone, whether they are overtly racist or not. The right has threatened to defund university activity that “teaches our children to hate America,” and in a number of states, legislatures have outlawed critical race theory without knowing exactly what they were trying to prevent.
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The idea of the university is that it is a “free marketplace of ideas,” that every received idea or notion should be challenged; that no ideas are off limits in a free society, even abhorrent ones; that it is essential to clarify what we believe to be the truth by subjecting it to rigorous examination and debate. This enlightenment ideal is under fire from both directions in our time. It is damaging American university life — particularly the humanities — and it has caused citizens and legislators to advocate workforce training and specific certifications as an alternative to a curriculum infected by leftist ideology.
Jenkinson, a humanities scholar, will moderate a panel of experts including Robert Shibley, senior fellow at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and Keith Whittington, William Nelson Cromwell professor of politics at Princeton University, as they discuss higher education and the culture wars: cancel culture, indoctrination and the “free” marketplace of ideas.
A native of Toledo, Ohio, and a graduate of Duke University and Duke University School of Law, Shibley is the author of “Twisting Title IX,” from Encounter Books. During his 19-year career at Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, FIRE, Shibley has aided students and faculty members at hundreds of colleges and universities and personally traveled to dozens of campuses to educate students, faculty and administrators about First Amendment issues.
Whittington is the William Nelson Cromwell professor of politics at Princeton University and is currently the chair of Academic Freedom Alliance and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. He works on American constitutional history, politics and law, and on American political thought. He is the author of “Repugnant Laws: Judicial Review of Acts of Congress from the Founding to the Present” and “Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech,” among other works.
Jenkinson is a humanities scholar, author and social commentator who has devoted most of his professional career to public humanities programs and is considered one of the most entertaining public speakers in the United States. His performances are always humorous, educational, thought-provoking and enlightening, while maintaining a steady focus on ideas.