For weeks, headlines of the more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian girls have dominated Western media. Collectively, we have expressed outrage that terrorists have taken these girls, forced them to convert to Islam, enslaved them and coerced them into marriage. On the same front pages that carry this horrible story, we learn that yet another university has “uninvited” a commencement speaker, this time human-rights activist, feminist and outspoken critic of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is affiliated with Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Brandeis University invited Ayaan Hirisi Ali to speak at commencement until an outcry, spearheaded by Muslim students unwilling to share their moment with someone whose views they consider offensive, pressured the school to rescind the invitation. Ms. Ali, a victim of genital mutilation and forced marriage, is no ordinary controversial speaker. Born in Somalia, she overcame continued and daunting obstacles to obtain an education and flee to the Netherlands. While there, she served in the government but suffered persecution because of her continued commitments to exposing the abuse of young girls in Islamic countries. Clearly, the woman has much to say, even to those who may not share her views.
During my undergraduate studies at Southern Illinois University, the most influential class I took was one called “Argument and Debate,” taught by a professor I’ll never forget, Dr. Marvin Kleineau. Dr. Kelineau taught me to examine each side of a question to the extent that I could argue convincingly on behalf of either point of view. The discipline of examining facts and drawing logical conclusions was the single most important stepping stone in honing my critical thinking skills and positioning me for success in every career I’ve had.
Today, clients complain that so few of the newly-minted candidates for job openings can engage in advanced analytical reasoning. They don’t see trends, separate strong from weak arguments or get to the core of complicated issues. And no one seems to know why this skill has eroded significantly through the years. Could it be our bastions of higher learning and our society as a whole have played a disturbing role?
Boko Haram, loosely translated, means “Western education is sinful,” implying the group’s purpose: to stop the education of girls, making them easier targets for enslavement. This group needn’t worry about recruiting minions in the U.S., however, since American universities seem eager to further their cause with a commitment to withholding conflicting and controversial topics from their campuses. This will limit education for both women and men, which might be an unintended but added bonus in the eyes of Boko Haram.
No commencement speaker will please everyone, but shame on decision makers who cave to the preferences of those who would trample on the rights of our students to learn to think for themselves. Their ignorance will enslave them.