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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Letter: Mac Needs the Ford "Difficult Dialogues" Grant Badly

By Mac Weekly Staff

Letter: Mac Needs the Ford “Difficult Dialogues” Grant Badly To the editor:

In her letter addressed to college and university presidents Susan Berresford, Head of the Ford Foundation, observed that “…the expression of a wide diversity of viewpoints” is a “hallmark of the American university system.” According to her, “the best way to deal with controversy and difficult dialogue is to engage with those with whom one disagrees, not to isolate them” nor, I would add, to verbally abuse them. The Ford program promotes “mutual respect” and “constructive dialogue” about controversial subjects.

On Dec. 2, 2005 a carefully thought-out opinion piece on affirmative action by my friend Joseph Schultz appeared in the Mac Weekly. I had hoped that the following week someone might respond by pointing to the need of distinguishing affirmative action from racial preferences. Someone might have alleged logical fallacies in Joseph’s argument or faulted him for not presenting more evidence to support his thesis. Alternatively someone might have called attention to the fact that there are very distinguished black scholars such as Thomas Sowell and Shelby Steele who oppose affirmative action as it is currently defined. These would have been rational and constructive responses, as were, in fact, two of the responses to Joseph’s essay. He was, however, bombarded with ad hominem attacks by the third letter writer. It was implied that Joseph is a white supremacist and a beneficiary of white privilege. There were assumptions about the socioeconomic class of his family, the kind of school he attended, how he got to Mac, and what he will likely do after graduation. Finally he was accused of “rationalizing oppression instead of fighting it.”

Every introductory logic textbook has a section on “logical fallacies” and the ad hominem argument is always one of them. Ad hominem arguments are fallacies because they are irrelevant. What kind of blocks Joe played with as a child has nothing to do with affirmative action. Personal attacks and name calling contribute nothing to “constructive dialogue”; they are, in fact, the last resort of the desperate debater who has exhausted his supply of clichAFAcs. They contribute nothing towards the discovery of truth or arrival at consensus. Members of the Mac community are urged constantly to “think outside of the box.” In this reply to Joseph’s essay we see what happens to one who is courageous enough to do so and to disagree publicly with Mac-think. Joseph is contributing to intellectual diversity at Mac, and we should all be grateful to him. Once upon a time it was thought that scholars should be able to discuss all subjects rationally and dispassionately. Let’s hope the Ford grant helps revive that ideal.

Jeremiah Reedy

Professor emeritus of Classics

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