Universities cast an objective spotlight in the new Dark Ages

To the Editor:

Generally, I enjoy Victor Porlier’s insightful letters to the editor. His April 4, 2019 commentary was not one of them.

He blames university education, particularly the humanities and social sciences, for inculcating unpalatable, rigidly dogmatic beliefs among young people. In my experience, this does not ring true.

I am a social scientist and was a university professor for 40 years. I do not recognize the 13 “troubling dogmas” cited by Mr. Porlier as something I or my colleagues would teach students, unless the classroom subject was fallacious reasoning. Bear in mind that Porlier draws his material from Minding the Campus, a website of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, an avowedly libertarian-conservative think tank.

Over the years, I have known and worked with innumerable sociocultural anthropologists, archaeologists, biological anthropologists, and linguists. Among my colleagues are many geographers, sociologists, historians, and psychologists.

To my knowledge, none of them are ideologues believing that “The West is Evil” or that “Heterosexual White Men Are Evil,” let alone spouting such absurdities in a classroom. Rather, they are empiricists dedicated to documenting how people actually live, behave, and think.

Their research is conducted in the field, lab, and archives. Resulting data are used to build a factual record of the human condition worldwide in past times and at present. This is how basic science and responsible scholarship work. They are neither fiction nor political rhetoric.

There is no need to invoke universities as the source of the inflammatory rhetoric that increasingly divides our society. Polarizing messages are omnipresent in the world around us: bellowing pundits on talk radio, video games and Hollywood spectacles filled with violence against women and imagined foreigners, and a prevaricating president for whom any uncomfortable truth is “fake news,” to name a few.

This is the current environment of hate and misinformation, a new Dark Ages if you will, that we should worry about. I am a fan of the Enlightenment and will cast my lot with the universities, one of the few institutions left which has the ability to cast an objective spotlight on the structure and workings of society. And Bravo! to those young people pursuing an education in the social sciences and humanities.

Robert Jarvenpa

East Berne

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