Monday, September 13, 2021


 Ibrahim Mammadov, Harvard College Class of 2023

 “The class was authoritarian.”
These were the words spoken by my classmate several days ago. Both of us are juniors at Harvard College, and we often talk among our friends about how we feel increasingly unable to engage in real debate on our campus, whether it be in class or otherwise. “They want controlled opposition,” he continued, describing how he felt that “the answers [in class] felt scripted,” and how there was little room for discussion. This class is by far not an exception to this general trend at Harvard. This is worrisome, because already we are beginning to see some of the problematic ramifications of this trend and its negative impact on the campus environment.

One negative impact is that there are very few novel ideas being presented. The students, who are scared stiff by the thought that they might say something that a segment of the class will find problematic, simply regurgitate the same cookie-cutter answers that they know their teachers and classmates will feel comfortable hearing. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of those “acceptable” answers are in line with progressive worldviews. Conservatives—who comprise a little over 12% of the campus population, cannot bring their ideas forward without major backlash from classmates, or sometimes even from the professors. This trend is dangerous
because in the past, colleges were places where ideas could be debated and new solutions could be found to social problems. Debate would mold students’ perspectives, and allow a new generation to emerge that is better equipped to deal with the diverse problems of their time than the previous generation. That is no longer the case. Enrolling a “diverse student body” and then not allowing that student body to express a diversity of thought is nonsensical, and is the reason why the world is increasingly polarized.

In conversation with my classmates who come from abroad, I realized that many of them are shocked at how restricted freedom of expression is in the United States. One of them, who is from India, said that after witnessing multiple students get piled on for defending capitalism in class—with most opponents making little effort to engage with their argument and instead focusing on insulting their character—he swore that he would never disagree with the crowd and simply “say whatever they wanted me [him] to say.” It is shameful that the most elite institutions in the United States are marring the perception of the U.S. as a country where liberty of thought and expression are valued.

The situation is turning outright totalitarian. With students increasingly flirting with the idea of the “fascist lifeboat,” where the objective of achieving a certain political end could justify almost anything, from limitations on speech to harassment and false accusations, it is perhaps time to reconsider the role that universities ought to play in political conflicts. Are they to actively promote a certain perspective? Or should the universities allow the ideas to compete, and let the merit of the best one shine through? The pervasive authoritarianism that exists on
campuses is currently disabling democracy of thought, and it is a mystery why university administrators are doing nothing to stop it.


[Ibrahim Mammadov is from Azerbaijan. He graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School and he had a history paper published in The Concord Review.]

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