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    Social Justice vs. Truth University

    challenge posed by Andy Nash 96 days 13 hours 7 minutes ago

    Category: Education
    Challenge Forum

    Social Justice vs. Truth University

    With recent riots at Berkeley & protests around the country we seem to be polarized now more than ever before, especially on college campuses for many reasons. There are scores of sites, pages, blogs, articles, even CollegeNET forums chronicling safe places, trigger warnings, micro-aggressions, PC, and intolerant shouting down of speech that activist students disagree with. These are nothing new, but in the last few years have soared. Some attribute psychological frailty before & during college, others politicized faculty. Implications for free speech & free inquiry notwithstanding, the deeper question is what the role & mission of a university is even supposed to be.

    N.Y.U. psychologist Jonathan Haidt, author of the The Righteous Mind , and self-described liberal-turned-centrist, drafted an outline forcing schools to reevaluate their educational mission. Demand for what he calls Social Justice U has grown so loud, vigilant & orthodox, that it’s come into conflict with the original aim, or ‘telos’ of higher ed, which is the search for truth, following rules of evidence, irrespective of outcomes. Citing John Stuart Mill as the patron Saint of ‘Truth U’, encouraging one to examine & challenge from all sides; Haidt contrasts this Socratic method with Karl Marx, who believed the point was to change the world, not merely interpret it, thereby ascribing Marx as patron of ‘SJU’.

    The famous literary theorist, legal scholar & author Stanley Fish, hardly conservative, argued that academics need to do only their job of developing analytical skills-of argument & inquiry, not social character or to inveigh political issues. Countering Marx, Fish said : “in the academy, … it is exactly the reverse: our job is not to change the world, but to interpret it”. It’s not that you can’t affect positive social change with skills developed in college, but that profs shouldn’t be picking your causes and recruiting you as change-agents for them. The only way to preserve Truth U as per Haidt, is to encourage viewpoint diversity.

    Reading Haidt’s outline, has SJU become incompatible with TU? Inherently so? Should the role of higher ed only be to interpret reality (find truth), or be a vehicle for change (make your own truth)? What change, whose truth & why?

    Re: Social Justice vs. Truth University

    Hi there Andy!

    Thanks for posting this forum.
    As I am currently in undergrad and have seen multiple protests on campus and on the campus of my friends in the past few months, I think you've posted this thread at the perfect time.

    Though I don't know much about the subject, I will try my best to answer your question to the best of my abilities. I believe the role of higher education should be both to interpret reality and also to serve as a vehicle for change. I think the key to making this work though is to give students resources if they want to make a change and make their own truth, or if they want to find truth. Students should be allowed to choose whether they want to find truth, make their own truth, or both as long as it doesn't harm anyone. What is important is that resources will always be there in case a student changes their mind. And if they don't want to do something, they don't have to.

    Although I believe Social Justice University is not the same thing as Truth University, I do not believe they are incompatible. I definitely think a college can be both, just like there are students who desire to seek the truth and there are students who desire to make their own truth all at one college. A college can provide resources, but at the end of the day what the student gets out of their education is their own choice. I believe my school happens to be a combination of both as my school offers a plethora of courses that allow us to find truth but also gives us resources in case we want to make our own truth. I remember a week ago receiving an email from the Director of Student Leadership & Involvement about protests. He said that if one of us wanted to host a peaceful protest or if we had any questions that we could call him. The email also had a reminder about what a peaceful protest should be and I thought my school handled the situation very well.

    I hope you have a wonderful day!

    Much love,

    Re: Social Justice vs. Truth University

    Aristotle often evaluated a thing with respect to its “telos” – its purpose, end, or goal. The telos of a knife is to cut. The telos of a physician is health or healing. What is the telos of university?

    The most obvious answer is “truth”. Can there be more than one? That's a question for which I believe we can give an answer that accommodates social justice too. We can have more than one teli. But then, what happens when there's a conflict?

    What happens if there's a professor is picking students based on causes? Well, I believe that there can be different universities with their cause. Many feel that social justice is important for the military. A view by Marx was to have political uniformity or see power structures as obstacles to be overthrown.

    “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” –Karl Marx, 1845

    With these facts laid out, we can surely tell that we cannot have both together. I also feel that many of the professional universities can have social justice as their main telos and truth as one of theirs and when in conflict, they can always choose to go with social justice.

    But universities that are more focused on research and the sciences shall keep truth as their only telos as I believe that political opinion shouldn't affect how we interpret the world and it has to be such that it doesn't have a clash which would surely be if they have social justice as a second telos as they don't go hand in hand.

    Finally, it depends on the university, its motto and objective to see this. I myself would prefer truth university as different political opinions and diversity shouldn't be a curbing factor in anything related to education.


    Re: Social Justice vs. Truth University

    Oh boy, this is quite the topic. As a graduate of a smaller private university, I did not experience nearly as much polarization as some of the larger public institutions. Another difference was my university was a Christian university, so our telos was centered mainly around truth in education with a heavy influence of the church.

    I must say I have always preferred those universities which strive for the truth and leaves social justice and what not to others. I believe higher education should help students figure how to express their thoughts effectively along with learning certain trades within our society.
    These institutions that push students to stand up and try to instill change in our world are no different from cults and extreme religious sects that try to gather followers into their perverted musings.
    We as a society need to keep education sacred, untainted by social issues or political leanings. Education is for everybody, and there should not be any pressure to pick a side when the student is still working on developing their voice and moral fabric.

    Re: Social Justice vs. Truth University

    Hello Andy,

    I have made at least one post about this before, and it is a topic that intrigues me. I believe that the question is not "are SJU and TU incompatible", but "which one leads the other". Currently, the SJU is the leading mentality and this affects how people understand truth. When the SJU is the dominant school of thought, what is perceived as social justice drives what people perceive as truth. The problem with this is that this leads to the belief in relative truth, which is not a externally consistent belief. It leaves room for conflicting truths which aren't really truths.

    All this means that the TU must be the prevailing school of thought. When this happens, social justice is driven by truth. When social justice is driven by truth the actual problems are addressed and are able to be corrected. All people are heard and helped when the TU leads the SJU. If universities were really passionate about promoting social justice, they would focus on training students in the practice of observing their world first without prejudice.

    Social justice aside, teaching a school of thought that allows for conflicting truths is poor teaching. Education is not just learning facts, but also honing the ability to think critically and without bias.

    Re: Social Justice vs. Truth University

    Good morning, Andy!

    I have read some good points and I agree with Ratio about how universities should focus on training students in the practice of observing their world first without prejudice. If this is done first than the student will have the information and foundation to form his/her own truth. I feel education should be based on facts and not based on one's own opinion. I feel trying to persuade one to learn his/her own truth, is not the way to go. The student must explore and given all options, so that he/she could make the best educated decision and utilize what has been taught in regards to the ways on expressing that truth to another level.

    If social justice is taught in a way to allow the student to form his/her own truth, I think that would be beneficial to us all. Although, I personally feel politics are corrupt, but if we have the education and tools we need to change it than I'm all for it.

    Have a wonderful day!