Letter to the Editor: Speaker sparks conversation

To the editor:

On Nov. 13, the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics hosted Professor Alvin S. Felzenberg from the University of Pennsylvania who spoke to a packed Mercer Room about one of his intellectual idols, William F. Buckley Jr. Professor Felzenberg characterized Buckley as a champion of the American conservative movement and is right for doing so. Buckley made a name for himself in the movement as founding editor of the National Review magazine, host of television’s Firing Line, advisor to the likes of Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater and author of numerous books and articles. A review of one book in particular, “God and Man at Yale,” should offer a perspective on academic integrity that is of interest to the Rider community as we explore this issue ourselves.

Buckley published “God and Man at Yale” in 1951, just a year after he graduated. In it, he charges members of his alma mater’s faculty with attempting to restrict the intellectual freedom of their students by corrupting their courses with agnostic, atheistic and collectivist texts and principles. He condemns “academic freedom”  of the educator as a mere means of anti-Catholic collectivists toward a crypto-Communist end. By doing so, Buckley argues, Yale’s professors disregard the wishes of Catholic and individualist alumni and trustees. Buckley argues that impartiality on behalf of the educator is not the solution Yale needs, but rather that a resounding reaffirmation of Catholic and individualist ideals is necessary to restore the institution to its former glory.

Buckley fails to appropriately address what, to my mind, is an unacceptable assumption of his argument. That is, if a professor is to indoctrinate his students, he must rob the student of their ability to make rational decisions about their beliefs. Buckley presumes that the student unwittingly accepts their professors’ opinions in spite of their own any time they attend lecture. It seems that in his defense of intellectual freedom, Buckley has sacrificed rationality.

This is an especially pertinent subject given the current educational climate at Rider. Since the beginning of President Gregory Dell’Omo’s stay in Lawrenceville, academic integrity has been thrown into question. Take the proposed elimination of over a dozen programs in 2015, the so-called sale of Westminster Choir College or the desecration of professors’ research funding, for example. In each of these instances, Dell’Omo sacrificed the liberal arts and sciences to his fantasy of the exclusively engineering and business oriented Rider University of tomorrow. Based solely on conjecture, this is what he suggests Rider’s future students are after. Like Buckley, Dell’Omo is imputing his desires into the hearts of students, distorting their intentions and violating their freedom of choice.

When I asked Felzenberg how Buckley defends such a course of action after his talk, he told me that Buckley is not accusing professors of “brainwashing” their students but rather of limiting their ability to think for themselves. Despite that this seems to be too charitable an interpretation, it would follow from it that a reaffirmation of Catholicism’s place at Yale would represent a reclamation of the institution’s essence. However, given Yale’s largely Protestant history, the account intends to persuade one toward an inaccurate account of history to substantiate a clear bias. Likewise, Dell’Omo’s allocation of Rider’s resources toward his private ideal represents a commitment of his university to an inaccurate picture of the present. Let’s not be persuaded.

— Kenny Dillon, senior political science major, and Joseph Ratel, graduate student 

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