Across the country, loud and sometime violent campus protesters are often met by administrators who ultimately give in to demands related to perceived slights on issues ranging from race to gender and sexuality to alleged hate speech. But one college president is fighting back, and he says the pursuit of truth – not unanimous political ideology – ought to be the goal of higher education.
Oklahoma Wesleyan University President Everett Piper burst on to the scene in late 2015 when he wrote an open letter to his students and famously explained their campus was not a day care but a university. He is also the author of the forthcoming book “Not A Day Care: A Coddled Nation is a Crippled Nation.”
Piper is also speaking up after the latest round of campus unrest, the cancellation of Ann Coulter’s scheduled appearance at the University of California-Berkeley. In his column for the Christian Post, Piper unloads on what he sees as an assault on free speech and an abdication of the role of higher education.
“The liberal arts institution was founded some 1,000 years ago, let’s say at Oxford, for what? To educate a free man and a free woman, to educate culture and what it means to enjoy liberty, and liberation, thus the word liberal,” said Piper, in a follow-up interview to his column.
He told WND and Radio America the original purpose of a liberal arts education is now almost unrecognizable at most schools.
“The classical liberal is someone who stands for freedom, for liberty and for liberation. What we see today within the American academy is the shutting down of ideas. We see ideological fascism rather than academic freedom,” Piper said.
“The conservative voice is actually more classically liberal because we’re arguing for an open, robust exchange of ideas. Why? Because we can trust truth to judge the debate rather than politics or power.”
Piper said the problem has been brewing for many decades as ideology has become more important than truth.
“We’ve taught lousy ideas for decades in the academy, and we’re seeing lousy behavior on the campus green and in the campus quad today. These student rebellions, these snowflake rebellions, trigger warnings, microaggressions and safe spaces are being called for because we’ve taught these kids this intellectual mush and this ideological narcissism and nihilism,” he said.
“We hear people say things like, ‘I hate these hateful people. I’m sure that nothing’s sure. I’m absolutely confident there are no absolutes, and I can’t tolerate your intolerance.’ It’s self-refuting at every turn. The reason we see this is because we started teaching this type of nihilism and intellectual relativism and intellectual mush some three, four, five decades ago.
“When you teach good ideas, you get good culture, good kids, good community, good government, good church, etc. When you teach bad ideas, you get the opposite,” Piper said.
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Everett Piper:
So why aren’t more administrators pushing back?
“I’ll be very blunt here: lack of spine, lack of courage, lack of conviction,” Piper said. “They’re more interested in capitulation and compromise. We’re more interested in a conversation than we are in demonstrating conviction and purpose and principle. We don’t seem to have the heart and the soul to engage in the things that are right and just and true.”
And he said the administrators are often ideologically in sync with the protesters.
“We call for justice but deny that there is a Judge. We argue that we want tolerance but then act intolerable to anybody we can’t tolerate,” Piper said. “Our administrators and our presidents and our professors parrot this pablum. They don’t have the conviction and the spine.”
Piper also pushes back hard against the notion that free speech somehow began at Berkeley in the 1960s. He said the people who believe that are about 2,000 years behind.
“Free speech was not born at Berkeley. It was born at Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago, because without the truth you shall never be set free,” he said.
Piper said history shows that removing God and His word from a society never results in freedom, because man’s rules then fill the vacuum. He said true freedom is like playing music or sports, with great freedom within certain boundaries.
“You are only set free with the context of truth, judging the activity you want to be free to engage in,” Piper explained. “When we abandon the concept of truth, you don’t get freedom; you get tyranny. And that’s what you see in the snowflake rebellion in the streets of Berkeley.”
He said the very notion of safe spaces misses the point of education.
“Safety is not what good education is about. Goodness is what good education should pursue, but you’ve got to have a measuring rod outside of those things being measured or you can do no measuring, according to C.S. Lewis,” Piper said.
“You have to have the measuring rod of Truth with a capital T, and goodness and justice, and mercy. Those things all come from the Judeo-Christian ethic that our country was founded upon. If we don’t have that ethic any longer, we’re going to see fascism and tyranny and power prevail, rather than live by principles that give us freedom.”
His immediate advice is for families to refuse to send their children to colleges that don’t embrace truth.
“Moms and dads, stop sending your kids to these institutions that teach this pablum, and send them to places that teach what’s actually objectively right and real and true and good,” he advised.