A Short Case for Controversy

Damian Sanchez | Columnist

Controversy: What a heavy and menacing word it is. It would even seem controversial to merely speak of controversy. And yet with the recent unveiling of President Taylor’s Task Force on Free Speech, it would seem that controversy yet again looms on Whitworth’s horizon. 

Some might find it unthinkable and deplorable for the university to even entertain any dialogue involving controversy; others may consider it unthinkable and deplorable to do anything but. So, what is it that should be done with this, ironically enough, controversy? And what place for controversy, if any, exists at a university? 

For starters, there is no doubt that controversy can be uncomfortable, provocative and, of course, triggering. However, controversy and conflict between worldviews nonetheless serves a role at a university that cannot be understated in its importance. 

Intellectual controversy and provocativeness force you to do something you desperately do not want to do: confront your own ignorance. In fact, controversy and disagreement are the foundations upon which the modern university model are based. This point can best be illustrated by a university administrator by the name of Ruth Simmons. Simmons became the first black female President of an Ivy League College in 2001, and subsequently personally invited controversial conservative David Horowitz to Brown University to give a lecture on why he thought the idea of reparations for slavery was foolish. Not only did she attend said lecture—she sat in the front row. And in response to criticism by her own students of this choice of provocative speaker she said, “the collision of opposing views and ideologies is in the very DNA of the academic enterprise. We shouldn’t need any collision avoidance technologies here.” 

To allow “controversial” ideas to be censored and thrown out wholesale is to inherently risk throwing out valid ideas worth pursuing and developing, which may allow us to better approximate truth. And, if like the ideas of David Horowitz, you encounter a controversial view that you don’t agree with, then you will gain the virtue of learning how to effectively confront them. After all, the best way to eradicate a loathsome view is not to bury your head in the sand by censoring it and de-platforming it, but to confront the best iteration of it head on. Doing so will not only ensure that the view is properly discredited, but you will arise out of the experience a better scholar and member of society for having developed your intellectual strength and ability to defend your view of the truth. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what you’re attending university for?