Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Preaching the Social Justice Doctrine

Above the article entitled “Social Justice Revival: Colleges Embrace Social Justice Curriculum” in today’s Inside Higher Education is a revealing photograph. It shows a speaker in a church, behind a pulpit decorated with a banner that reads: “Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize.” Whether ostensibly secular or not, institutions of higher education across the nation have embraced “social justice” as a faith and attempted to re-define their educational missions as proselytizing and their faculties as clergy. I have no problem with priests, ministers, or rabbis preaching to the faithful. But I’m dead set against doing this in our colleges and universities.
Preaching “social justice activism” entails encouraging students to follow a social and political program. Someone must define the tenets of this program. This means that either the administration or some group of faculty promulgates an orthodox creed. Not only are students expected to adhere to this creed, but faculty (the social justice clergy) also come under pressure to conform. Marching together in their officially mandated crusades, the faculty and students leave intellectual pluralism and open inquiry behind them.
It’s fine for students to become active in causes they believe in. Members of the faculty have every right to dedicate themselves to their social and political passions. But institutions that try to direct these causes and passions replace the free exchange of ideas with doctrine.

1 comment:

  1. Here in the Northeast, Syracuse University is certainly positioning itself as a Social Justice Vatican. As Dr. Bankston implied, the idea of using a university to promote social justice and "civic engagement" is problematic because we are never allowed to ask, "Whose justice and whose engagement?"

    It'll be curious to see what kind of social engagement the SU Chancellor promotes. I suppose I might be able to live with all this fanfare if I see students "engaging" not only with Earth First, Occupy Wall Street, and the NAACP but also with the NRA, military and law enforcement agencies, and Ron Paul campaigns. I'd be more relieved if it turns out to be nothing more than getting students to do some volunteer work as Big Brothers and Sisters. Within reason, I'm not totally opposed to encouraging students (not forcing them) to be a little more engaged in places they would like to engage.

    But for now, I'll wait and see. I'm not sure how neutral and benign the "social and political program" will turn out to be . . .