Letter to the Editor: Judge new schools on what they support, not who supports them

ASU's SCETL allows its students to criticize different political views

Corbin Witt is a sophomore communications major and former columnist for The State Press who has taken classes in the School for Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership.

Guilt by association has long been regarded as a foolish and unfair way to pass judgement on anything, be it a person, a program or a particular activity. Nevertheless, otherwise reasonable and informed people still routinely fall into that logical trap. Recently, a State Press article written by David Marino serves as an example of this phenomenon. The purpose of this letter is to rebut the thinking that says an idea is bad just because of who supports it. 

For those who have not read the article I am referencing, it is a criticism of ASU’s new program called the School for Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership (SCETL). In the article, Marino’s reservations about the school seem to heavily rely on the governmental origins of the school, saying “I think whether the school is right-wing or not, there is no doubt that it had right-wing origins. The debate over the legislation that effectively created the school broke upon party lines, with Republicans largely being in favor and Democrats largely against in the original 2016 budget debates that created the major.” 

While I won’t dispute the basis for that claim, I cannot help but question the relevance of that line of thinking. Especially because the leadership of the SCETL program already go out of their way to invite partisans on both sides as well as non-partisans to campus to speak to students, with the support of multiple other departments at ASU.

Take, for example, the year-long lecture series that has been sponsored by SCETL as well as the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. This year’s topic has been "Free Speech and Intellectual Diversity." 

If you are terribly worried about a Republican presence on campus, then the events put on by SCETL are actually the perfect place to go, considering the numerous liberal speakers such as Cornel West, Tom Daschle, Jonathan Haidt, Bret Weinstein, Allison Stanger and Jeremy Waldron, who have all come to engage with the community.

If you are still worried about the motivations of Republicans that would support this initiative, it may be more fruitful to ask why some Democrats are opposed to ideals of free speech and intellectual diversity.

Beyond the lecture series, which has been and will continue to be open to the public (with events recorded by Arizona PBS and posted on their website), the school’s curriculum is no more partisan than any other academic unit interested in public policy. 

The school offers courses on the history of political thought, comparative research on Islamic, Hindu and Confucian philosophy, public policy debate and economics. Even Marino, while he levels accusations of politics being injected into academics, admits that he has “no problem with the teaching of any of those subjects.” 

The allegation that the school is politicizing those subjects frankly does not stick when you actually speak to faculty and look into the classes. In my SCETL classes, I have witnessed professors criticize many public policy measures, without regard for who sponsors them. Students are equally free to criticize or defend any idea discussed in class, whether it comes from a conservative, liberal, libertarian or socialist worldview.

This approach to education is incredibly valuable, as students are being taught to evaluate an idea on the idea’s merit alone, rather than turning a deaf ear to people of different backgrounds. We should never be in the practice of slapping partisan logos onto that which we are afraid to engage with.


Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this letter to the editor are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors. 

Reach the author at cwitt2@asu.edu or follow @WittCorbin on Twitter.

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