As a senior at Lawrence, I have come to think of the university in the long-term. To put it succinctly, in an adaptation of the immortal words of John F. Kennedy, I am thinking less of what Lawrence can do for me, but rather what I can do for Lawrence. While I understand that there will likely be few immediate results of my words, I hope that, in the long term, the university will benefit from what I have to say.Specifically, there is one issue that I can no longer keep silent about, namely the meaning of a “liberal” education. I arrived at Lawrence a moderately conservative, card-carrying Republican. Four years later, I still am. I have, however, continuously modified my views as student groups such as the SLA, Greenfire, GLOW, and others have forced me to confront the basis of my own views on the key issues that define the American political landscape today. I have had the opportunity to listen to worldviews diametrically opposed to my own, and engage in polite exchange with progressive students about what they believe.
I will be forever grateful to the students of Lawrence who allowed me a glimpse of another viewpoint, and gave me invaluable practice in communicating my own beliefs.
I am, however, disturbed that many students at Lawrence have not had the same opportunities to learn about opposing political views. Reflecting on my four years at Lawrence, I see an unproductive trend, especially with regards to the university’s stance on politics. I make it a point to attend every convocation given at Lawrence, because in my opinion a little education, whether or not I agree with the speaker’s beliefs, never hurt anyone. What disturbs me, however, is that the university, when given the opportunity to host political pundits and activists, consistently chooses those who lean left.
During my sophomore year, the university invited both William Sloan Coffin and Susan Estrich to speak to the student body about the Iraq war and civil liberties in the age of terrorism, respectively. Both speakers indulged in polemics against both conservatives and President Bush. For me, as part of the political minority at Lawrence, it was stimulating; for those in the political majority, I fear it was simply preaching to the choir.
What benefit do progressive students derive from hearing their own views parroted back at them? The only reprieve was the same year, when Newsweek columnist and foreign policy analyst Fareed Zakaria spoke at a convocation. His moderate manner of simultaneously supporting some of the Bush administration’s policies, while politely critiquing others, was just what both sides of the political divide needed.
Although some part of me questioned why such a small minority of politically moderate speakers was selected to speak at convocations, and that no conservatives were invited at all, I remained silent. After all, both students and faculty participate in selecting convocation speakers, so I should not complain.
Then, Arianna Huffington came to Lawrence. While she occasionally made a valid point about polling practices and voter registration, most of her speech consisted of one-liners and blatant stumping for John Kerry; she went so far as to instruct the audience to vote for him. Lawrence seems to have conveniently forgotten, one month before one of the most important American elections in recent history, that there is another side to the argument. If a college espouses the ideals of liberal education, it should ensure that all viewpoints are given equal consideration, representation, and respect. Therefore, Lawrence University should do the conservative argument justice by representing it on the convocation stage as well. It took me four years to realize it, but it appears that Lawrence has come to equate liberal education with liberal politics. Apparently, Lawrence is not as open-minded as I had hoped.
The progressive students, however, are the ones who are cheated by Lawrence’s politics. Thanks to the university’s choice of convocation speakers, while I am now acquainted with progressive viewpoints and prepared to meet with progressives on their own ground in order to pave the way for positive change in America, many progressive Lawrentians are not similarly prepared to work with conservatives. Lawrence University has helped me to fulfill my own potential, and I only hope that, in the years following my graduation, my words will, in turn, help the university to reach its full potential as well.