Letter to the Editors

Bob Spaulding, Contributing Writer

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As a Mac grad and past donor to Macalester, I read The Mac Weekly regularly to learn about the intellectual climate at the college. It was dismaying to learn that some students were able to prevent “The Green Sheik” from speaking because he is from the United Arab Emirates, despite his bona fides as an environmentalist and humanitarian. It also appears that demonstrators were prepared to disrupt his talk, thus exercising the “heckler’s veto.”

Students were thus deprived of the opportunity to hear the viewpoint of someone who might have disagreed with them on a range of issues. We can’t have that now, can we?

Is Macalester still a true liberal arts college, or a monoculture of like-minded, politically correct social justice warriors, intolerant of viewpoint diversity? Based upon my conversations with students and faculty, participation in Alumni Weekends for many years and regular reading of The Mac Weekly, Macalester has abandoned its liberal arts mission.

Evidence? Macalester has approximately 100 recognized student clubs and groups. I counted 14 that were political or ideological. Thirteen leaned left, and one — MacGOP — leaned right. Outside paid speakers in recent years totaled 14. Of the eight speakers that were political or ideological, all eight were left of center, none right. The Mac Weekly, in describing events and developments on campus reflects a social justice atmosphere in its editorials and news reporting with nary a dissent from conservative or libertarian students. The latter do exist, however. One told me he keeps his head down in class discussions so as not to hurt his grade or alarm others. Such self-censorship by some should not exist in an institution that claims to be about liberal arts.

As a retired economics professor, I worry about the financial future of Macalester for several reasons. It has long been blessed by a relatively large endowment, thanks mostly to a long-ago gift from the founder of Reader’s Digest — a conservative magazine, by the way. The endowment has benefited from stock market holdings that are four times higher (Dow Jones Average) from their low point 10 years ago. Such gains have also prompted wealthy alumni to contribute. But it has been over 10 years since our last recession — the longest recovery in history. If a “reversion to the mean” occurs, how will Macalester’s endowment fare? Other looming problems are the decline in the college-age population, a rise in large corporations seeking to hire non-degreed applicants who can prove competencies by means other than a college degree, and the election of any of the leading Democratic Party candidates promising free college for all (which would have to exempt, by law, private colleges). But the biggest financial blow to Macalester may be the decline in donations from alumni who learn their alma mater no longer delivers the education they benefited from.

From what I know about the United Arab Emirates, there is much to dislike. We don’t know whether “the Green Sheik” is an apologist for the actions of the UAE or a genuine reformer trying to improve its policies. Students won’t be able to challenge him with tough questions or seek to learn if the UAE is reforming. Viewpoint diversity is not tolerated at Macalester.

College should be a time of intellectual exploration that welcomes differing points of views, not a closed society of like-minded students, faculty and administrators afraid to engage in constructive disagreement. Instead, Macalester students seem to marinate in an atmosphere of political correctness where the party line must be adhered to. They will emerge after four years unchallenged in their ideologies, sheltered in their safe space from developing critical thinking skills and unable to cope with a world full of competing viewpoints.

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