Professor Duffy responds

By on September 11, 2003

I would like to take the opportunity to respond to your editorial, “Freshmen induction not place for Bush-bashing printed in the September 04 edition of the Chronicle. I am sorry Mr. Atchue perceived my comments as Bush-bashing; this was not my intended message.

I would like to thank Mr. Atchue, however, for articulating his concerns, as they indicate to me how on an intolerably hot day (where listening to anything is difficult) my message may have miscarried. I would like to address two issues at the center of Mr. Atchue’s comments: the role I was advocating for criticism, and my intention in welcoming new students with the comments I delivered.

The principle focus I had intended for my comments was that criticism and critical thinking are essential to the learning process; this is what a University is all about. A considerable portion of my address, in fact, encouraged students to question whatever source or information they come in contact with; to critically engage a topic, to question the source of the material and to, in that process, re-examine their own thoughts.

This is something we all must do, student and professor alike. The portion of my comments that Mr. Atchue highlights pertained to my point that, as adult members of a democracy, we must take this approach not only to our studies but also to the public affairs of the day.

Far from bashing the Bush administration (in fact, at one point I specifically noted that this was not my intent), I was encouraging students to think critically about current events by considering several propositions that raised questions about our current governmental priorities. I think it is important to emphasize that criticism, and a critical engagement with current events or ideas is not the same thing as a rejection of those ideas or a condemnation of the events and individuals involved. Rather, it is a responsibility we have as citizens to think for ourselves. Our very system relies on thinking, critically-engaged citizens.

A Latin proverb states: ubi dubium ibi libertas, where there is doubt, there is liberty. Now, I admit the propositions I introduced with respect to current events in the political realm evoke for many a partisan reaction. This also was my intent. I even encouraged students listening to my comments to react, to question, to critically engage with my comments.

And this is where Mr. Atchue’s editorial is most disappointing for me. He states that these facts have been debated hundreds of times over and that there is no sense in doing that here. I couldn’t disagree more. To allocate to others the responsibility to think, and decide on issues of this importance is the very thing I was encouraging students not to do. To do this is to take a passive approach to life; it is an indication of a lazy mind. If there is one thing a university is NOT about, it’s the toleration of lazy minds.

This brings me to my second concern. I disagree with Mr. Atchue on whether this was an appropriate topic with which to welcome new students to a university community. The very reason I gave these comments was because I believe my message is quite central to what a university is all about. Here, I caution against equating critical inquiry with a particular political ideology. Mr. Atchue echoes many in our society who confuse a critical approach with liberal ideology. Just as it is possible to critically engage with a policy and end up supporting it, so it is also possible to critically engage as a conservative, or to reach conclusions that are consistent with a conservative political agenda through active, critical engagement.

By inviting students to question, and engage with ideas at all levels at the level of national issues, with topics they confront in the classroom, and with their peers here at the university, I was giving the best advice I know to give for getting the best out of a university education. If this doesn’t happen, the risk is that a student will leave Quinnipiac with nothing other than a very expensive piece of paper and the hangover from a four-year party.

I am willing to debate the facts on any number of political issues; it’s what I do; I’m a political science professor. I’m also willing to critically engage issues that arise in fields far from what I am expert in communications, business, biology. I can learn from this engagement. Developing this ability is the whole point of a university, and one of the benefits I derived from my own experience in college. I hope students will do the same.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify the comments I delivered to incoming students, and for the role your publication plays in fostering critical debate on campus.


About Prof. Sean Duffy