Kmele Foster: 00:00 Uh, to try to cultivate healthier debate amongst their students, um, and to, to try to actually create an environment in which folks can talk about ideas that might be somewhat controversial, uh, I’m going to just jump right in to it, ’cause we have a little bit of a, an abbreviated schedule here, so we can get to your questions. So they’ll do opening remarks, introduce themselves briefly, then we’ll get right into it, and we’ll try to save the last 15 odd minutes, uh, for questions. At question time, please raise your hand, remain in your seat, um, and when you ask a question, try to actually ask a question. Uh, and that is it. So, please, Robert.
Robert P. George: 00:35 Yes, I’m Robert George, and I teach Philosophy of Law at Princeton University.
Allison Stanger: 00:40 I’m Allison Stanger, and I’m a professor of International Politics and Economics at Middlebury College, and I am that Middlebury professor.
Robert P. George: 00:47 Yeah.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 00:47 (Laughs) I’m Jonathan Zimmerman, I teach History at the University of Pennsylvania, and I write about history of education.
Kmele Foster: 00:56 Great. I mean, given the, the context for this conversation, perhaps you could start by just take, in turn, uh, describing the circumstances that you have encountered on campus, and how you’ve navigated them. What sort of challenges have you encountered in your classroom?
Robert P. George: 01:11 Well, my courses include things such as constitutional interpretation, civil liberties, moral and political, uh, philosophy, and philosophy of law, which is my main field. So I hit all the hot button issues, you name it. Uh, affirmative action, abortion, death penalty, marriage, uh, religious liberty. You name it, I’m hitting the hot button issues. Uh, and I try to establish in my classroom, from the very first lecture, uh, an atmosphere in which students, um, understand that they are not only entitled to, but are responsible for giving reasons, and making arguments, and speaking their minds. Uh, I’ve made clear that this is a free speech zone. There is nothing out of bounds.
Robert P. George: 01:53 I do ask for civility. I don’t want students to be insulting, uh, each other. But there is no position that is out of bounds. Uh, as long as you can defend it with reasons and arguments and evidence, which as I said at the lunch, uh, event, are the proper currency of intellectual discourse. As far as the way I manage my own, uh, activities in the classroom, uh, I have chosen a particular path. I don’t think that it’s proper for the professor to use the classroom as a soapbox for advocacy. Uh, the danger there is that, that the class descends into a kind of catechism class, uh, and that students feel pressure to feed back to the professor on exams and papers what they think the professor believes, and, and wants to hear. Toxic, absolutely toxic to the mission of the place, which is education.
Robert P. George: 02:48 So I take a different course. Uh, I have prided myself for my 33 years in education, all at, all at Princeton. Uh, I’ve prided myself on being able to present, uh, attractively and sympathetically, views that I don’t agree with. I make sure that, uh, with respect to every issue covered on my syllabus, they’re reading the best arguments and the best articles and books that I know of on the competing sides of the issue, again whether it’s affirmative action, death penalty, marriage, abortion, what, what, what have you. They’re reading the best that’s known to me on the competing sides.
Robert P. George: 03:19 And in my lectures, and I, I do, uh, a combination of lecture and Socratic engagement, uh, even in the lecture setting. Um, uh, I try to, uh, present, sympathetically, attractively, the competing sides in such a way that someone who didn’t happen to know what my views were on the subject would have a lot of trouble guessing, uh, what they are.
Robert P. George: 03:44 Now, because I’m outspoken outside the classroom, and because we live in the age of the internet, all my students know what I think. There’s no doubt about it, there’s no question about it, uh, I can’t hide that, I don’t try to hide that. But, uh, one of the, um, best experiences of my life was last year when the winner of the Pyne Prize, which is Princeton’s, uh, highest, uh, honor for undergraduates, um, a wonderful young woman named Solveig Gold, now at Cambridge University doing her Ph.D., when she said that one of her favorite moments in her four years at Princeton was, “Watching Professor George eviscerate a conservative argument in his constitutional interpretation class.”
Kmele Foster: 03:44 (Laughs)
Robert P. George: 04:22 Uh, and I had done that because it was a bad argument. And I don’t like bad arguments, I don’t like them if they’re on my side, I don’t like them if they’re on the, uh, on the other side. Uh, so that’s my way of handling, uh, the classroom, uh, situation. And I do that because I believe that’s what advances learning. That’s what advances truth-seeking. Which to me, is what it’s all about. Now, having said that, and having been reinforced in the view that I’m really good at attractively presenting views I disagree with by generations now of student evaluations telling me how good I am at it, I have learned that I am not good enough. And I learned that in my teaching with my beloved friend Cornel West, which is now, we’ve been doing now for eleven years.
Robert P. George: 05:03 What I learned in working with brother Cornel, having the two of us in the classroom, uh, a couple of outspoken guys, couple of guys who aren’t afraid to state their opinions, engaging with each other and with our students in the seminar, what I’ve learned is that very often, um, Cornel will make an argument, or, uh, make a point responding to a counter argument, where he’ll be defending a progressive view or pushing back against criticism of a, uh, progressive view in a way that would never have occurred to me. Doing my best to, as sympathetically as possible, represent the progressive side, the argument would never have occurred to me, and the students would have been denied a powerful, compelling point that I then, on the conservative side, have to wrestle with.
Robert P. George: 05:54 And guess what? Cornel tells me that he has had exactly the same experience. He does what I do. If you go into a Cornel West classroom, it’s not the same sort of approach that you’ll see if you see Cornel, uh, uh, if you watch C-Span and you see Cornel speaking at a, um, what were those rallies, uh, called a couple of years ago? Uh, uh, in New York?
Kmele Foster: 05:54 Occupy.
Allison Stanger: 06:17 Occupy.
Robert P. George: 06:17 Yeah. The, at those, at those rallies. Cornel does what I do. He tries to represent, in a sympathetic way, views that he disagrees with. But he’s had the same experience, uh, I’ll make an argument, or make a point on behalf of a conservative, uh, perspective, that simply wouldn’t have occurred to him, even doing his best.
Robert P. George: 06:35 So our students have the benefit of, of, of having professors who actually believe the stuff they’re saying in the classroom, and what that has highlighted for me or reinforced for me is the importance of viewpoint diversity. Yes, it’s true, most professors, I think, do try to be fair to views they disagree with. And that’s great and I want to encourage that. But that really isn’t good enough. If you want the best in education, especially in areas that are of normative significance, normative inquiry, it’s really valuable to the students, to the educational process, to the pursuit of truth, to have people who genuinely disagree around, who are engaging each other and modeling that engagement for their students.
Kmele Foster: 07:18 Okay. Allison, talk a little bit about your own experience, and how you’ve navigated it?
Allison Stanger: 07:22 Sure. Well, it’s always a great pleasure to be on the same stage with Robbie, uh, because I’ve realized that there’s basically zero daylight between his position on what should go on in a classroom and my own, yet we disagree on many different things. So I’m not going to repeat what he’s already said so eloquently. I would, I wouldn’t disagree with a single thing he said. What I’d like to do instead is perhaps come at this from a slightly different angle. Just give you something I was reflecting on this morning that I found helpful. It was a new thought that occurred to me. Maybe it’s half-baked. Maybe I shouldn’t be presenting it here, but, but uh, we’ll throw it out there.
Kmele Foster: 07:59 It’s a safe space, it’s fine. (Laughs) It’s fine.
Allison Stanger: 08:01 I assume we’re in a safe space here. I had the good fortune of testif … Testifying before the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform last week, the week before …
Robert P. George: 08:01 Before last.
Allison Stanger: 08:12 Before last, right, with professor George.
Robert P. George: 08:15 And, and with um, um …
Allison Stanger: 08:16 And Brett, Brett Weinstein.
Robert P. George: 08:18 Brett Weinstein, from Evergreen State.
Allison Stanger: 08:19 And some other people. And I just received an additional question for the record, couple days ago. Ironically, it came from the House and it went to my junk mail for reasons I don’t understand.
Robert P. George: 08:32 (Laughs)
Allison Stanger: 08:33 Emails from anyone with a senate.gov or a house.gov domain will go into your junk mail on Microsoft Outlook, so check your junk mail in case you’ve got letters from the House or the Senate. (Laughs)
Robert P. George: 08:46 Or not.
Allison Stanger: 08:47 But anyway, it was an additional question for the record, and it came from Congressman Mark Meadows, who is a Republican from North Carolina. He is the chair of the Freedom Caucus. And he asked the following question. “What is hate speech, and when should it be limited?”
Allison Stanger: 09:04 And I thought this was a really interesting question to think of in terms of what I do in the classroom. What do I do about hate speech in my classroom? And it made me realize that if you lay the appropriate ground rules for learning, that professor George has articulated so nicely, uh, it never is an issue that comes up. Because think about what you would cons … Consider hate speech. We all know hate speech is protected by the first amendment. That doesn’t necessarily mean that all speech has to be tolerated in a university setting, because we have to think about the mission of the university.
Allison Stanger: 09:37 But thinking about it in my classroom, you know, what would I do? And the way I think about that is think, “What is it that really offends me?” So engage in this exercise with me. Think of something that really offends you. Speech that would offend you. Maybe this is a group of people that nothing offends them. That’s great. But I think when most of us are human, there’s some things that would offend us. And then ask yourself, “Does that kind of speech have any place in an institution of higher learning?” And I think the response is, “No.” It just doesn’t have a place.
Allison Stanger: 10:11 Maybe you can provide me with a counter-example, and the reason is that we’re trying to create an environment in which there’s no self-censorship. We also want a certain degree of civility, which requires empathetic listening that is genuinely endeavor, endeavoring to hear the position of someone with whom you might passionate, passionately disagree, and not be thinking about responses, but truly trying to understand that. And if you are in that mindset, you can’t allow ad hominem attacks. Most hate speech, speeches are a form of ad hom, hominem attack.
Allison Stanger: 10:46 So what I tell my students on the first day as ground rules is, “We are going to have an open and free conversation where everybody is going to speak their mind. I don’t want there to be any self-censorship because if there is self-censorship, that’s where liberal education ends. Because if you cannot think on your own and occasionally blurt out something stupid, perhaps be reprimanded or corrected, and then move on, you can’t have a, have a decent learning environment.” So I make it very clear that we are not going to have any ad hominem attacks masquerading as arguments.
Allison Stanger: 11:26 An ad hominem attack is not an argument. Arguments require reason, they require evidence. Uh, and they can be subjected to quite a bit of rigorous scrutiny. And that’s what I want done in my classroom. So what’s interesting to me about controversial things is, uh, arguments, is that I can remember 20 years ago, teaching the New Republic Symposium on The Bell Curve. Some of you remember that, it was Murray and Herrnstein kind of doing a thumbnail sketch of their argument, and then all these responses, and it being a fantastic pedagogical device. It’s sort of ironic that this happened to me in trying to replicate that experience 20 years, you know, two decade, decades later, but it was useful precisely for the reason that it got students so angry. It just really got them angry, and that’s this wonderful moment, potential teaching moment where you can say, “Okay, okay, you don’t like the conclusion. Where does that, where does that thinker go awry? Is it a flawed premise? Is it a flaw in the reasoning? Tell me what is flawed in that argument.”
Kmele Foster: 12:34 So that’s the sort of prompt that you would provide in the context of a conversation about that?
Allison Stanger: 12:38 Yeah, and it’s really …
Kmele Foster: 12:38 Okay.
Allison Stanger: 12:39 It’s, it’s, it’s really useful. I also, the other thing I would add is that, I, I say that we’re all human beings, we’re all very different, we’re diverse, it’s wonderful, that’s great that we’re all here together having a conversation. But because we’re human beings, we may sometimes unwittingly offend someone. So my ground rule for this, maybe this is a gendered thing, I’d be curious whether you think this is, is what’s the big deal about apologizing and moving on? If you unintentionally offend someone, why can’t you just say, “Oh I’m really sorry, that was not … I, I didn’t realize it would affect you that way,” and move on?
Allison Stanger: 13:12 Way I see things really escalating on college campuses, and I’ll conclude with this, is, is, when somebody says something that’s offensive or does something that’s offensive, a student reacts really emotionally. And the person gets very defensive. “Well what do you mean? I’m not a racist, how, you know, why are you, what’s the big deal about a sombrero?” To cite an incident at Middlebury college. This is very, defused very easily, and if, if you lay it out as ground rules in a classroom that we’re going to apologize when we offend and move on, and anything goes, you can say whatever you want, I find that only very rarely do people get offended.
Allison Stanger: 13:48 And so maybe that’s, that’s what we can do in our classrooms. The outside extra curricular environment, that’s a whole nother topic. But I thought I would start there.
Kmele Foster: 13:57 Alright. And Jon, could you share your own experience?
Jonathan Zimmerman: 13:59 Sure, I mean first of all, I just want to apologize beforehand.
Robert P. George: 14:02 (Laughs)
Allison Stanger: 14:02 Yeah, yeah. [crosstalk 00:14:04] Yeah, thank you. It’s not gendered. I’m so happy, Jon.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 14:07 Totally. Look, you know, I once had a newspaper editor told me, uh, tell me that I can’t use the term elephant in the room, because it’s a cliché. And it is, but I’m going to anyway.
Allison Stanger: 14:16 It’s a great … No, it’s a good one, though.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 14:18 Uh, it, it strikes me that there are two elephants in the room, uh, in this discussion, and in, in fact the whole day’s discussion. Um, the first one has to do with teaching, I’m delighted that we devoted, uh, you know, a session to the classroom. Um, because so many of the values that we’ve been discussing, the small liberal values about reason and tolerance and exchange, um, you would only care about them if you cared about teaching. Um, uh, and there’s a lot of evidence that in higher ed in the United States, a lot of people don’t.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 14:51 They don’t care nearly as much about it as these two teachers here, and you can measure this in all kinds of different ways. The amount of time faculty say that they devote to teaching, the amount of time students say they devote to studying, and at every level, from community college to graduate school, the best predictor of your salary is the fraction of your time you devote to research.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 15:16 Um, uh, contra wise, your salary is inversely proportional to the amount of your week that you, uh, devote to teaching. Um, like a lot of you, I consider myself a dedicated teacher. By the way, 91% of us say we’re better than average at teaching.
Robert P. George: 15:29 (Laughs)
Jonathan Zimmerman: 15:29 It’s the land, it’s the land of Lake Wobegon.
Robert P. George: 15:32 (Laughs) Uh-huh.
Allison Stanger: 15:32 Really?
Jonathan Zimmerman: 15:32 Um, uh, but uh, nobody, I don’t think, has ever seriously evaluated me as a teacher. And the reason I’m up here with these much more distinguished people has nothing to do with my teaching, it’s because of what I’ve written. And that seems to be a really important context here that’s been missing for this discussion. If we really wanna do something about viewpoint diversity and promoting dialogue in the classroom, we have to have teachers that promote dialogue in the classroom, right? That are invested enough in the act of teaching to make that happen.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 16:02 And there’s plenty of evidence, again, there are 4,000 places to get a BA, they all vary across each other and internally, right, I hope I’m not stepping on anyone toes, but I already apologize, okay. But that’s a really important context. Here’s the other one. Those values that, you know, those small liberal values that seem to be at the heart of this entire discussion. We have elected a president who flouts them every day. We have. We absolutely have, and, um, uh, I try to be as direct as possible with my students about what my view of this is, um, I yield to nobody in my disdain for the president, and it has nothing to do with his political positions, insofar as I can discern them.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 16:48 Um, uh, but even if I can, all of them are arguable. Every single one, you know. Immigration, taxes, healthcare, they’re arguable in the sense that reasonably decent people can and do disagree about them. You know, on immigration, I mean, my fellow lefties that look so enviously at Canada because of single payer health insurance, they rarely acknowledge that the immigration system in Canada looks a lot more like Donald Trump’s Norway comments than anything Chuck Schumer wants. I mean they just flat-out favor higher educated immigrants.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 17:20 And again, I’m not saying that’s good, I’m not saying that’s bad, I’m just offering that as an example, right, that on every issue, every position Trump has taken, reasonable and decent people can and do disagree about it. But, reasonable and decent people don’t call a continent a shit hole. They don’t. That’s a distinction that should be at the heart of all of this. The distinction between political beliefs and political behavior.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 17:52 Um, and it strikes me that Trump has created an enormous challenge for anyone who’s an educator at any level, including K-12. Um, the last book that I wrote, it’s about teaching controversial issues in American schools, uh, it’s for really K through 12 students and teachers, and we wrote it before Trump was elected, uh, but it’s a very short book, it’s like right up there with great Jewish sports heroes.
Robert P. George: 18:17 In humor.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 18:17 Um, uh, in, in part because there isn’t a whole lot of teaching of controversial issues in K through 12 schools. Well, I think arguably there’s less now.
Robert P. George: 18:26 Hm.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 18:26 And so I’ve essentially been going on the road Thursdays and Fridays and doing a stump speech about how there could be more. What we would have to do at every level for there to be more. And …
Kmele Foster: 18:38 More teaching?
Jonathan Zimmerman: 18:39 I, I, more teaching of controversial issues, more engagement of controversial issues in our classrooms.
Kmele Foster: 18:44 Between the three of you, I mean you, uh, I wanna mix this up a little bit, ’cause you’re making it sound too easy. Um, it …
Jonathan Zimmerman: 18:49 Oh, it’s not.
Kmele Foster: 18:50 It, it sounds, it …
Allison Stanger: 18:50 I think it is easy, but anyway …
Kmele Foster: 18:51 Because, there’s, it, you mentioned, um, the Bell Curve Symposium.
Allison Stanger: 18:56 Yep.
Kmele Foster: 18:56 Which has actually been in the news again fairly recently, within the last few months, uh, because after, uh, Kevin Williamson was let go at The Atlantic, there was a conversation, a meeting, the transcript of which leaked out, um, and it was very clear, having read the transcript, that there were people in the room who regarded the very notion of asking certain questions as inherently offensive.
Allison Stanger: 18:56 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kmele Foster: 19:17 Um, that they described as, as scientific racism.
Allison Stanger: 19:21 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kmele Foster: 19:21 Um, and it seems to me that there are certainly plenty of contexts in which people find various reasons for offense without, you know, the indication of a word like shit hole, uh, I have to suspect that some of your students come into your classroom with that kind of sensibility, and the word empathy was mentioned a little while ago, and I, I wonder about the distance between the necessary, the necessity of cultivating a sense of empathy amongst your students, and a willingness to apologize when wrong, um, and encouraging your students to be a bit more robust in their willingness to encounter ideas that they may not like without viewing them as personal insults.
Allison Stanger: 20:03 Yeah.
Robert P. George: 20:04 Well, well I’m, I’m certainly for the second half of that. Um, I, I, I’d have to hear more about empathy to be persuaded that it’s my job to be encouraging empathy. Um, we could, we could talk about that. But I do think it’s my job, and I tell the students that it’s my job to unsettle them, to challenge their deepest, most cherished, even identity-forming beliefs. That the only way I’m going to help them to be truth seekers and lifelong truth seekers is to unsettle them. So they’re gonna hear things in this class that are unsettling.
Robert P. George: 20:41 And I tell them that, that you need to repay the favor. You need to unsettle me. And you need to unsettle each other, precisely by challenging each other’s most fundamental, cherished beliefs. And if I’ve done my job correctly and if we’ve all achieved what this course is designed to achieve, by the end, each of you will be your own best critic. You won’t need somebody else. You won’t need me or a fellow student to challenge your beliefs.
Kmele Foster: 21:09 How do you prevent that from devolving into some game of provoc … Provocation?
Robert P. George: 21:14 Because you insist on reasons and arguments and evidence. That’s how we do business. There is a currency.
Kmele Foster: 21:14 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Robert P. George: 21:20 You gotta do business in this currency. If you’re, if you’re doing business in some other way, that’s not gonna work here, you’re gonna be called out on that. We wanna know what your reasons are, what your arguments are, what your evidence, uh, is. And, and if we’re getting near the end of the class, I say, and, and, uh, uh, and I haven’t or we haven’t, uh, unsettled you, please don’t go running to Nassau Hall to President Eisgruber to ask for your money back. Give me one last chance to do it …
Kmele Foster: 21:20 (Laughs)
Robert P. George: 21:49 And I promise you, I will do it.
Allison Stanger: 21:50 Yeah.
Kmele Foster: 21:50 So, uh, do you ever encounter situations where things don’t necessarily go as planned and the students still manage to …
Allison Stanger: 21:56 Yeah, you’ve been raising a really important question and I agree with what you said, you’ve said. But I would just add this, that you will sometimes encounter raw emotion …
Kmele Foster: 22:03 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Allison Stanger: 22:04 In the classroom. Particularly if you’re encourage, encouraging students from marginalized groups to speak their mind, and I think what’s important there is to model for the students, empathetic listening. Which is to hear the emotions out, because a lot of times when people, uh, respond that way, it’s because they feel they haven’t been heard.
Kmele Foster: 22:04 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Allison Stanger: 22:28 If that makes sense. And so sometimes we wave our free speech banner and say, “Oh, you know, this should unsettle you.” And I, I agree, that’s what learning is about, it shuts them down and just by listening and saying, “I hear you, now what can we do about it?”
Kmele Foster: 22:39 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Allison Stanger: 22:40 That produces really productive exchanges. I will add, though, that sometimes it doesn’t work. It has not worked on two occasions for me, and in both instances, the students were severely mentally ill.
Robert P. George: 22:50 Oh, well that’s a …
Allison Stanger: 22:52 And they had to be …
Robert P. George: 22:53 Uh, Allison, can I ask something …
Allison Stanger: 22:53 Leave university.
Robert P. George: 22:55 Have you had the experience that I have had, which is the self-censorship of female, especially female and minority students who feel as though they’re under some pressure to not express views that are considered outside of what a member of their group is supposed to believe?
Allison Stanger: 23:18 Yes, I’ve absolutely encountered, encountered that, and after, I had, I can’t tell you the number of students of color who approached me after the Murray incident to say how frustrated they were that they agreed with me, but that they couldn’t really speak openly because they would be socially ostracized, and I think that’s terrible.
Allison Stanger: 23:34 It works the other way, though, so this is sort of interesting. Uh, I had uh, a dear student, uh, African student, actually, who held pretty radical views about race in America. And so I got excited. He’s in my class, I mean, this is going to really generate some great discussion. And he was holding back. He didn’t wanna say certain things.
Kmele Foster: 23:53 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Allison Stanger: 23:54 I called him into my office, I said, “What’s going on? I mean, you can speak freely. Are you afraid to speak?” And he said, “No, no.” He goes, “I know what I think. And I know how I’m gonna be treated if I say it. And I wanna be Vernon Jordan someday.”
Kmele Foster: 24:11 Hm.
Allison Stanger: 24:11 You know, “I wanna be powerful. So I’m gonna keep this to myself, and I, I’m aware that it’s self-censorship, but this is what’s necessary in America.” Just, so that gets you thinking.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 24:22 Did you know that Vernon Jordan got shot in the rear end?
Allison Stanger: 24:24 Yes.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 24:25 Okay. Alright, he may not want that.
Allison Stanger: 24:27 Yeah, he doesn’t … I think he’s thinking about Vernon Jordan at the Four Seasons, you know …
Jonathan Zimmerman: 24:27 Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Allison Stanger: 24:30 Meeting, you know, knowing all the powerful people.
Kmele Foster: 24:32 Maybe have time for …
Allison Stanger: 24:32 Yeah. What?
Kmele Foster: 24:33 Like, half a question. Jon, can I ask you something before you, you chime in?
Jonathan Zimmerman: 24:37 Yeah, yeah.
Kmele Foster: 24:37 With respect to, to the fact that we are often bringing people with paradox perspectives to campus to speak, sort of on display, almost behind glass, when we’re not dealing with Milo, when we’re dealing with someone a bit more intellectual, how can you know that students are actually engaging with ideas in a context like that, versus looking at this exotic person with these weird ideas and thinking to themselves, “At least I’m not them”?
Jonathan Zimmerman: 25:03 Well, you know, I’m glad you raised this, because, you know, I think the, the outside speaker thing gets way too much attention.
Kmele Foster: 25:03 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jonathan Zimmerman: 25:08 It’s almost a red herring. Um, uh, it’s very public, right. It’s often reported on in media outlets, uh, and so we refract a lot of these discussions through the outside speaker issue. But that’s not the norm of the circumstance, right? Most kids don’t know that the speaker’s on campus, and also don’t care. They’re also not required to be there like they are in our classes, you know.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 25:31 The real issue isn’t how pe … I mean, I’m not trying to dismiss that, it’s a serious free speech issue about our culture. But I think the much more important question is, “What happens inside our classrooms?” I mean, that’s the normative educational experience for our students. Um, and just, if I could say a couple things about what I just heard …
Kmele Foster: 25:31 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jonathan Zimmerman: 25:49 Um, I endorse everything I just heard, it’s also premised on kind of a seminar type situation, with maybe 12 to 15 students, right, which many college teachers in the United States don’t have the luxury of enjoying. I think that’s a really important thing to point out.
Robert P. George: 26:01 Well I, I, I do it in much larger classes.
Allison Stanger: 26:03 Yeah.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 26:03 Right, and I, I know, but it’s certainly easier to do, and …
Robert P. George: 26:06 Oh, of course.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 26:07 To hear, to hear everybody, and get everybody to talk in 12 to 15. On the emotion front, I think it’s really important to allow people to express emotions, to hear them out, but also to make it clear that emotion isn’t argument.
Robert P. George: 26:21 Yeah, exactly.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 26:21 Right? Um, and, and the degree to which you’re emotional about something doesn’t speak to the strength of your argument.
Allison Stanger: 26:29 Exactly.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 26:29 Um, uh, look, it’s fine to be emotional. I think right now if you’re not really emotional, you may be a sociopath.
Robert P. George: 26:36 (Laughs)
Allison Stanger: 26:36 (Laughs)
Jonathan Zimmerman: 26:36 I mean, there’s a lot to be emotional about, right? But you can’t substitute that for argument.
Allison Stanger: 26:43 Mm-hmm (affirmative). Exactly.
Robert P. George: 26:44 Could, could I add a perspective on that? I, I think one of the …
Kmele Foster: 26:46 Sure, and be, before you do, uh, if there are questions in the audience, I’d suspect there are some microphones around, and someone’ll move to you with the microphone.
Robert P. George: 26:54 Let, let me try to say this quickly. I, I think part of the problem with the outside speaker events, the incendiary ones and so forth …
Jonathan Zimmerman: 27:01 Yeah.
Robert P. George: 27:02 Uh, even, even when people are not pro, provocateurs, they just happen to be conservative, or they happen to have views that are outside of the mainstream. Part of the problem is the lack of viewpoint diversity on the faculty.
Allison Stanger: 27:13 Yeah.
Robert P. George: 27:13 So it’s a different experience for students if they have never heard a dissenting view from the progressive orthodoxy expressed, and suddenly someone comes in. It might be a serious person, it might be Harvey, Harvey Mansfield, not, not, not, uh, Richard Spencer, whatever that guy’s name is. Uh, still, having never heard it before, it seems shocking. It seems like an assault on, quote, our values.
Allison Stanger: 27:36 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Robert P. George: 27:37 Or our community.
Kmele Foster: 27:38 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Robert P. George: 27:39 Like a personal insult. It’s a very different experience when you’ve got sufficient diversity of viewpoint on the facul, faculty, that students are hearing people with Ph.D.s and authority positions every day, saying things that challenge the purvey of the dominant, the majority opinion on campus. Somebody comes in, and makes an argument, uh, you know, critical of affirmative action, or in favor of the death penalty or whatever it is, and people don’t experience that as a personal assault.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 28:05 It’s not as big a deal.
Allison Stanger: 28:06 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Robert P. George: 28:06 Right.
Kmele Foster: 28:07 So we’ll start over here with the question, then come over here.
Speaker 5: 28:10 Right, thank … Yeah? Thank you, okay. So I work in, uh, bilingual education and second language acquisition research, and there is an idea of a student having an effective filter, which is to say that, if they don’t understand the language quite yet, there is a lot of emotion surrounding their ability to participate in conversations. So another thing with maybe an international student, or uh, an English language learner, let’s say in K to 12, or that’s coming into college, is there’s a lot of cultural knowledge that we’re talking about. These larger narratives that people that are having these conversations in class are very con, there’s a lot of confidence around them. So do you find ways to involve people that maybe, language becomes a barrier, or cultural background becomes a barrier, so that their ideas are a part of this conversation in ways that are really valued? Thanks.
Robert P. George: 29:00 Oh, okay. Now I’m beginning to see what Kmele’s talking about with empathy, and I can speak a little, uh, to that. Uh, I arrived at Swarthmore College as a, as a, as a freshman right out of the hills of West Virginia. Literally, not figuratively, literally with my banjo on my back.
Allison Stanger: 29:15 (Laughs)
Robert P. George: 29:15 It’s true. And I severely lacked cultural knowledge. People were saying words like Dostoevsky.
Allison Stanger: 29:26 (Laughs)
Robert P. George: 29:26 And, you know, for about 15 minutes, I tried to bluff.
Kmele Foster: 29:33 (Laughs)
Robert P. George: 29:33 Sure, Dostoevsky. Uh, but it became pretty clear pretty fast that uh, I was in way over my head. And the reason I survived that is that a couple of professors sort of recognized the problem. I guess that was empathy, right. They were empathetic with my situation. And they decided to give me special attention. A guy named James Kurth and a guy named Linwood Urban gave me the kind of special attention that brought me up to speed. So I, probably as a result of that experience, am really alert to that with my students.
Robert P. George: 30:07 And, and I usually can perceive it pretty quickly. And I just try to repay Jim Kurth and Lin Urban by doing for their grandstudents what they did for me when I was a student.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 30:21 Robbie, I’m really glad you’re talking about this.
Robert P. George: 30:23 Yeah. (Laughs)
Jonathan Zimmerman: 30:24 Great to get it out there.
Allison Stanger: 30:25 It’s good, it’s good.
Robert P. George: 30:27 That’s, that’s as emotional as you’re gonna hear me get.
Allison Stanger: 30:29 (Laughs)
Jonathan Zimmerman: 30:29 Well, no, the …
Kmele Foster: 30:29 We got one more over here.
Speaker 6: 30:33 Hi, my name is, uh, Scheherazade, I’m directing a faculty engagement program here in New York, mostly on the issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which as you can imagine, is very controversial. Um, so we do all sort of thing in order to embrace complexity and bring more and more knowledge into this, um, discussion. We take faculty member to tour Israel and the West Bank and we bring all sort of speakers from the region to the campuses here, and we see a change when faculty who never spoke about Israel beforehand now feel more comfortable and more equipped to talk about this issue once they have more knowledge.
Speaker 6: 31:12 But it’s not enough, and want to go back to what Jon just said, uh, for example, I had a professor from Q and E coming into one of the courses we offer, and said, “I know everything I need to know, but my class was hijacked by SJP group, which is Students for Justice in Palestine group. They, she teach, um, Middle East, um, Politics, and they take the cla … Their, her class is a platform to recruit students. And they, she just couldn’t handle it. She wanted to come to the course in order to get tools and pedagogical, how to talk about difficult issues.
Speaker 6: 31:48 So as Jon said, not all faculty members are great educators as you are. Not everyone first care, or is equipped with the tools of how to be a good teacher, so if you could allude to that, what can be done, especially in the social science and humanities, to provide, uh, faculty members with some real concrete tools of how to deal with this hot potatoes, um, whether it be Israel-Palestine, abortion, or you name it.
Robert P. George: 32:19 Yeah.
Allison Stanger: 32:19 Yeah, I … Well.
Robert P. George: 32:21 That’s a statement, I … What is it you …
Allison Stanger: 32:24 I, I just had a comment. Um, you’re raising a, a, a really interesting point, and it’s just something I’ve noticed about the American left today that perplexes me, which is this obsession with Israel, as expressed in the BDS movement. I find this really somehow unbelievable, beca … For Americans, because here, the Arab-Israeli conflict is morally complex. That’s what happens when people come to Israel and learn something. They realize the complexities of that situation. Race in America, on the other hand, is not complex, right?
Kmele Foster: 33:04 No?
Robert P. George: 33:04 (Laughs)
Allison Stanger: 33:04 There’s not complex moral issues … No, what, what I mean, what I mean by that … Do you, let me …
Robert P. George: 33:10 Empathy, empathy, Allison.
Kmele Foster: 33:10 (Laughs)
Allison Stanger: 33:11 No no no, no, maybe I said that the wrong way.
Robert P. George: 33:13 (Laughs)
Kmele Foster: 33:14 Oh, I’m very …
Allison Stanger: 33:16 I apologize.
Robert P. George: 33:17 She apologized.
Allison Stanger: 33:17 I’m always apologizing. Um …
Kmele Foster: 33:18 No offense here.
Allison Stanger: 33:18 What? No, no. What I meant by, what I meant by that is that there are injustices in this country around race that are just in your face. I mean, the, we’re just, how many years after slavery, and we’re still struggling to provide genuine equality before the law, genuine equality of opportunity? So what I can’t understand is why the left is focused on BDS and not on the problems right here in our backyard. So that’s just my two cents on, on BDS and race in America.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 33:46 Look, I mean, I think at the hard, it’s your hardest question is something very depressing about the way that we do business in education. Uh, people who teach in higher education, most of them have absolutely no training to do so. Um, you know, I, I, I, it, it’s, uh, you spend a lot of time looking at a computer or looking at some documents or looking at a laboratory, and that qualifies you to be a teacher? Really? Um, so shouldn’t we be …
Allison Stanger: 34:13 (Laughs)
Jonathan Zimmerman: 34:13 Should, should we be surprised that there are some teachers that don’t have those skills? I, frankly, I think we should be surprised that there is many that do, I mean, given the way we do business, uh …
Robert P. George: 34:27 Ninety-one percent.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 34:28 Yeah, exactly. Exactly, yeah, yeah. Woe to those 9%. Um, uh, the, the thing that, that, that I always suggest, especially to younger faculty members, is spend as much time, uh, reading and thinking about people with whom you vehemently disagree. So my, my little thing that I do is whenever I go to the gym, only Fox News.
Robert P. George: 34:52 (Laughs)
Jonathan Zimmerman: 34:52 Exclusive Fox News diet. And the Republican bros at the gym, they all think I’m one of them, I mean. For, for, for, they’re, they’re like, ” Yeah, email server, baby!” You know, and I’m like … I mean, I’m an unreconstructed governite, my dad was in the Peace Corps, he was hired by JFK, I was in the Peace Corps, I’m Jewish, I have a Ph.D., I’m a hilarious caricature of a liberal Democrat.
Robert P. George: 35:15 (Laughs)
Jonathan Zimmerman: 35:15 Uh, but it’s precisely because of that, precisely because of that, that my job as an educator is to just rigorously expose myself to everything that I disagree with. And lo and behold, now a couple years into my Fox News diet, I’ve actually found out that my prejudice against Fox News, like all prejudices, was to some degree, founded in ignorance. Um, there is, there is ridiculous propaganda on Fox News, in fact, there are some people on Fox News that have confessed to being propagandists.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 35:48 But lo and behold, there are some Democrats on Fox News, there are people of color on Fox News. Turns out that Fox News is like, kind of a diverse country.
Allison Stanger: 35:56 (Laughs)
Jonathan Zimmerman: 35:57 But the great thing about prejudice, or name-calling, like Faux News, is that you don’t have to know anything.
Allison Stanger: 36:03 Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jonathan Zimmerman: 36:04 It’s awesome.
Kmele Foster: 36:05 Yeah.
Allison Stanger: 36:05 Yeah. (Laughs)
Kmele Foster: 36:07 That’s, uh, it’s interesting. I, I wanted to try to elucidate something quickly. Um, with respect to the complexity of certain issues. I was speaking to a pair of young men, I believe, is it Brigade? The name of the organization that won that award yesterday? Brid …
Robert P. George: 36:22 Bridge.
Allison Stanger: 36:22 Yeah.
Kmele Foster: 36:23 Bridge, Bridge. And we were talking about the necessity of modifying narratives in order to, to try to cultivate healthier conversations, and as you were mentioning race, I think a lot about the conversations that I end up having in public a lot …
Allison Stanger: 36:23 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kmele Foster: 36:37 Often about criminal justice reform.
Allison Stanger: 36:37 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kmele Foster: 36:39 And I find that in many cases, investing those conversations with all of the rich baggage that comes along with issues of race …
Allison Stanger: 36:49 Yeah.
Kmele Foster: 36:50 Often can make it very difficult to get to deeper conversations about policy reform …
Allison Stanger: 36:55 Hm.
Kmele Foster: 36:55 That might actually be very meaningful and useful …
Allison Stanger: 36:55 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kmele Foster: 36:58 Uh, but that, it’s just hard to get past the, uh, the emotional charge of race. I think we’ve got time for a few more questions from the audience, so mic there, and then we’ll come back.
Coleman: 37:07 Hi, I’m Coleman Hughes, I’m an undergraduate philosophy major at Columbia, and um, I’ve, I’ve noticed, I, I often get recruited for groups, uh, a group called the Minorities in Philosophy Workshop where it’s, because I’m black, it’s assumed that I would enjoy being in a room with other people who I have nothing in common with, uh, uh, uh, other than, uh, you know, the amount of melanin in our skin. And …
Robert P. George: 37:35 Can you turn the volume up?
Allison Stanger: 37:36 You sound like the voice of God. (Laughs)
Kmele Foster: 37:37 Yeah, it might be helpful if you stand … Yeah.
Coleman: 37:39 Sorry, I, I, I’m saying, um, I, I, I’ve, I’ve, I often find myself getting recruited for, uh, Minority Workshop Groups where it’s assumed that because I’m black, I would enjoy being in a room with, with other people who I don’t share anything in common with necessarily intellectually, right? And we, we also have, we have black student housing, we have all these venues in which, as long as you’re not a white person, you can organize around the variable of the identity that you, you just walked into being born.
Coleman: 38:18 And, um, you know, we, we don’t let white people do this. And, uh, it, uh, what I’m getting at here is, students only spend so much time in, in a classroom. Uh, they spend much more time in their dorm, in their student clubs, and uh, my question is, does, does it make sense to continue to allow venues to exist that are totally organized around the variable of identity, and, you know, does, does, do, should we be rethinking that going forward, given how much time is spent in these venues relative to the classroom?
Kmele Foster: 38:57 I think we were talking a little bit …
Allison Stanger: 38:58 Yeah.
Kmele Foster: 38:58 In the back about the difference between controlling your classroom and, and the wider campus environment.
Allison Stanger: 39:03 Yeah. I, I, I hear what you’re saying, and I, but I think there are two issues in it. There’s the issue of safe spaces, and there’s the issue of patronizing treatment of minorities. Uh, safe spaces I don’t have a problem with. If you look at the development of the American university, you know, [Hillel 00:39:19] is a safe space. So this is just a natural continuation of that. But patronizing behavior is something that has always offended me. So I was a student in the Harvard Government Department at a time when there were very few women faculty members.
Allison Stanger: 39:36 And a well, very well-intentioned male faculty member singled me out to say, “Gee, you know, you’re one of the few women. You must really be feeling like you don’t belong here.”
Robert P. George: 39:36 (Laughs)
Allison Stanger: 39:45 “You’re not smart enough,” and, (Laughs) and I’m like, oh my goodness. And so I remember saying, “You know, actually,” I kind of helpfully and naively said, “I know a lot of my male friends who feel, who, who feel that, those sort of insecurities too. Maybe we could have a group meeting.” And he got so mad at me. Said, “Don’t you realize I’m taking my time to try and help you?” So down with patronizing behavior, and this is one thing that makes me upset about what’s going on in, on a lot of our campuses today, is this encouraging, we’ve heard about this already. Encouraging students to think of themselves as victims, because if, if you … Greg, I mean, it was you that was mentioning this, in connection to mental health.
Allison Stanger: 40:27 If you really want to encourage students to grow and develop to their full potential, speaking to them in a patronizing manner, making them think of themselves as victims is a dead end. So that saddens me when I see that happening.
Kmele Foster: 40:41 We’ve got …
Robert P. George: 40:41 Well I’m not, I’m not sure I …
Kmele Foster: 40:42 Forty-six seconds.
Robert P. George: 40:43 Completely understand what safe spaces are …
Allison Stanger: 40:43 Yeah.
Robert P. George: 40:46 But to the extent that I understand safe spaces, I’m uh …
Allison Stanger: 40:48 The Newman Society.
Robert P. George: 40:49 … I’m against them.
Allison Stanger: 40:50 You like the Newman Society.
Robert P. George: 40:50 Well no, they, they, I like students organizing around common interests.
Allison Stanger: 40:52 Yeah.
Robert P. George: 40:52 That’s fine.
Allison Stanger: 40:53 Okay.
Robert P. George: 40:53 Common goals. I, I don’t like places where debate is off-limits, where challenge and discussion are off-limits.
Jonathan Zimmerman: 40:53 Def, def, definitely.
Allison Stanger: 40:53 Right.
Robert P. George: 41:00 But, but on the, I, I completely agree with you on the point about patronizing minorities. That’s a very serious problem. Now I, I think there’s a difference between permitting students to form identity groups, which I think the university would do more harm than good if it actually tried coercively to prevent, and encouraging. Too often I think we’re encouraging identity politics, which I think is poisonous on campuses and I think it’s poisonous in our broader, uh, democracy. But I would distinguish, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t encourage it, but I, I wouldn’t try to use a heavy hand to, uh, uh, to stamp it out, either.
Robert P. George: 41:31 Just, just another point, we, uh, in the previous panel, there was some discussion of, of, of protests, and in the statement that Cornel West and I put out in 2017 on truth seeking and democracy and freedom of, uh, thought and expression, we made the point, of course, that, that protest and the right of protest, including on campuses, is sacro-sanct. But, shouldn’t we encourage, whenever possible, our students to listen to people they disagree with, and not to just protest?
Robert P. George: 41:58 If you’re protestor, protesting, you’re not listening. If you’re not listening, you’re not learning anything. So I would wanna encourage an atmosphere like the one, I’m gonna go there. Like the one, this is probably the most controversial thing I’ve said, of many. Like the one in which Bernie Sanders found himself when he visited the Liberty University. Jerry Falwell’s university, where he was not treated the way Antonin Scalia was treated as president Roth reported to us at Wesleyan, but rather was listened to respectfully and engaged. Those Liberty students were students who believed that many of the things that Bernie Sanders believes are deeply wicked. Not just mistaken, deeply wicked. But they were willing to sit there and listen to him respectfully, hear what he had to say, and engage him. I think the Wesleyan students did not comport themselves nearly as admirably …
Allison Stanger: 42:50 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Robert P. George: 42:50 When Scalia was at Wesleyan.
Kmele Foster: 42:52 Alright, I think we’ll have to stop there. Thank you very much, everyone.
Robert P. George: 42:54 Thank you.
Kmele Foster: 42:58 My pleasure.
Speaker 8: 43:01 It’s time for a, a 20-minute break and we’ll come back to the room.