Let’s say you’re a philosophy professor at a liberal arts university. You have certain political beliefs informed by your faith and extensive study, but you are by no means a political partisan.
After attending a demonstration about election integrity, you find out there was a riot at the Capitol building. You later see the media labeling the demonstration you attended as an “insurrection” and vilifying everyone who was there, even though the vast majority had nothing to do with the riot. Given your study of political philosophy and social thought, you know those who voted for Donald Trump had points of genuine concern, like protecting factory jobs and bringing troops back from foreign wars.
You recognized that the outcome of the 2016 election was not a product of Russian intervention but rather a culmination of real economic and social concerns. As a result, you publish an article in “The American Mind” that attempts to articulate those underlying concerns that led to the rise of populism, the election of Trump and ultimately the demonstration that took place on Jan. 6 .
Your article does not seek to promote a personal agenda, but rather simply to help others understand what motivated millions of people to vote for Trump and what motivated thousands of those voters to protest what they felt was an election lacking integrity. However, you soon find your article met with unreasonable and disproportionate outrage.
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As a student at Mount St. Mary’s University, the scenario I describe above is not hypothetical, but real. Philosophy professor Dr. Joshua Hochschild wrote just such an article, entitled “Once Upon a Presidency.” I read Hochschild’s article and found it to be a sincere description of a people whose political views are often dismissed out of hand without honest consideration.
While the main purpose of Hochschild's article was to encourage people to listen to each other, his detractors not only refuse to consider the motivations of those at the demonstration, but, further have vilified Hochschild for even encouraging them to consider those motivations. Indeed, a change.org petition has gone so far as to call for his resignation.
At a time when many of America’s elite academic institutions are becoming increasingly hostile towards any views that stray from certain orthodoxies, the Mount’s decision to respect Hochschild’s academic freedom is all the more significant.
Both conservatives and classical liberals object to constraints on speech and thought on the grounds that the university ought to be a place for debate and free speech. While debate and free speech are certainly a core part of the liberal arts tradition, they are not the university’s purpose. The university is not simply meant to serve as a vacuum in which ideas are questioned and new ones proposed, devoid of any unifying purpose. Rather, the true mission of a university is to push the members of its community towards virtue and an appreciation of the common good. As Hochschild contends in a Pairagraph exchange on the modern American university, “we need to renew the old idea of a university with a clear and confident purpose, whose faculty collaborate in a common project, inviting students to participate in a distinctive and worthy way of life.” Hochschild’s article is in line with this mission because it invites us to a way of life that seeks to understand the views of others. The inability to understand the views of others or even consider them, is one of the greatest political challenges we face.
I am proud to be a part of a university in which professors like Hochschild are not only free to speak openly on controversial issues of national importance, without fear of retribution, but can actively promote an understanding of the good.