Opinion | Are Colleges Too ‘Woke’ and Alienating Conservatives?

To the Editor:

Re “My Liberal University Is Pushing Freethinkers to the Right,” by Adam S. Hoffman (Opinion guest essay, March 3):

Mr. Hoffman’s essay painting Princeton University as a haven for censorious radicals hellbent on ostracizing peers with opposing viewpoints is a narrative as tired as it is inaccurate.

The true story just isn’t as grabby: that Princeton boasts prominent conservative student organizations and institutions, an administration that regularly venerates freedom of speech, and a student body where the vast majority are simply normal college kids rather than totalitarian ideologues.

Political tolerance isn’t perfect at Princeton, or anywhere else, and identifying specific problems and solutions is important, but this sort of victimization narrative adds nothing substantive to that discourse.

If conservatives want someone to blame for the radicalization of the American right, they should look closer to home for a scapegoat.

Sander McComiskey
Princeton, N.J.
The writer is a freshman at Princeton and an executive board member of Princeton College Democrats.

To the Editor:

Adam Hoffman brings up some valid points concerning the state of free speech on college campuses. As a student at the University of Virginia, where last spring former Vice President Mike Pence’s visit was met with what I believed was overly dramatic pushback from progressive students, I would have agreed with virtually every word of his essay.

However, while I question the efficacy of gestures such as “land acknowledgments” or trigger warnings, I fail to understand how such actions could justifiably push one farther to the political right.

Writing as a fellow white man at a prestigious university, I wonder whether Mr. Hoffman’s ego is really so fragile that he finds it unbearable to take seconds out of his day to acknowledge the considerable privilege from which he benefits? Or has he fallen prey to the right-wing politicians’ and media’s manufactured outrage against “woke” initiatives?

I urge Mr. Hoffman to reconsider whether universities really are “fundamentally broken” when they do the bare minimum, such as diversity training sessions, to try to make historically marginalized students more comfortable at their institutions.

Tyler Dooling
Charlottesville, Va.

To the Editor:

Adam Hoffman’s essay strikes a chord with my own apprehensions as I prepare to start college next fall at a highly liberal institution. The mere act of writing this frightens me, as I fear that even a hint of dissent from my future ever-progressive classmates could lead to my being ostracized.

It is disconcerting to acknowledge that despite the United States’ reputation as a bastion of free speech, those with minority views are susceptible to reprisals. Suffocated free speech can be seen when looking at a Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression report that shows that in 2021 almost 70 percent of the 111 attempts to penalize professors for their speech came from the political left of the scholar.

Although I lean left and consequently don’t have similar views as these professors (so please, future classmates, don’t “cancel” me), their right to express opinions shouldn’t be threatened.

Cancel culture undermines the principles of open discourse and the freedom of expression that our country was founded upon. We must surround ourselves with those who challenge our beliefs, rather than simply confirming them.

Charlie November
Belmont, Mass.

To the Editor:

Pity the poor Ivy League campus conservative. No longer allowed to tell jokes that demean gay people, women or people of color, or ridicule the self-determination of trans people; forced to recognize the racial inequities that have haunted the United States since its inception; self-censoring in the face of “puritanically progressive campuses.” His or her only option is to tack far to the right and blame it on the libs.

This kind of talk is nothing new. When I was an undergraduate at an equivalent university in the mid-1980s, campus conservatives were hardly reading Burke and debating over tea and sherry. It was routine for them to opine that “straight white men are the most oppressed group” on campus. They complained that they were censored from talking about how apartheid South Africa was the “only democracy on the continent.”

I can’t imagine, as the U.S. has moved further and further to the right over the past four decades, that campus conservatism has toned itself down. It’s no surprise that Ron DeSantis, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley graduated from elite universities. The kind of illiberal, extreme policies that they espouse have always been there, barely under the surface.

Sarah E. Chinn
The writer is a professor of English at Hunter College.

To the Editor:

Although the term “woke” is overused, and often abused, by the right, Adam Hoffman’s essay highlights unhappy truths about academe that are embarrassing to leftists like me. I’m not sure that higher education alone can alter the zeitgeist, but I hope that future American generations will attend colleges and universities that welcome and tolerate all views, encourage debate and activism across the political spectrum, and prepare students for citizenship, not just partisanship.

Jeffrey Scheuer
New York
The writer is the author of “Inside the Liberal Arts: Critical Thinking and Citizenship.”

To the Editor:

More than 40 years ago I started college as a naïve, uninformed, but curious 18-year-old. I look back with nostalgia on that time as an eye-opening quest for knowledge, understanding, experience and truth.

How narrow and uninteresting life would be if we defined ourselves and chose an unwavering political identity before understanding better who we are, the complex world we live in, how it came to be and how it’s changing. And how awful to risk ostracism and exclusion for challenging social and political orthodoxy, and the authority of those who presume the mantle of leadership.

College is a time to doubt, question, change and grow, a time to seize the opportunity to learn how to learn, and, more important, how to think. I’m afraid that the campus zeitgeist that Mr. Hoffman describes is the opposite.

Jay Markowitz
Pound Ridge, N.Y.

To the Editor:

What a wonderful article! Adam Hoffman did an excellent job of laying out the current landscape of higher education for those of us who have been away, including at my alma mater, The George Washington University.

I recall organizing a demonstration calling for gun control the night after the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and ignoring a bomb threat to go see Tom Hayden speak with his then-wife, Jane Fonda.

My memory of these events and the late nights my dorm mates and I spent arguing the merits of the Federalist Papers and works by Ayn Rand lacked the political polarization and accompanying histrionics that seem to be the order of the day today. I have observed a similar atmosphere at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where our daughter is a senior.

I have great hope for a bright future, however, if young people today use their intellect and education to challenge the status quo, change the world and make it better!

Margaret Vodopia Carroll
Grosse Pointe, Mich.

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