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my visits to wellesley college

Last week, controversy broke out over Wellesley College’s Freedom Project, a program designed to have students discuss the meaning of freedom through various activities. The program is run by sociologist Tom Cushman and receives much of its funding from the Charles Koch Foundation.

The controversy has a few parts. For example, there is the accusation that Cushman and his staff “silenced” Koch critics. Josh McCabe, a sociologist and assistant dean at Endicott College, pointed out this is simply incorrect. As one of the staff at the Freedom Project, he was directly responsible for the academic programming. For example, in a response to critics in National Review, McCabe points out that he invited a political scientist whose research is highly critical of the Kochs. He also invited a number of sociologists, almost all of whom are political liberal and very likely to be critics of the Koch’s politics. This includes Elizabeth Popp Berman, who writes for this blog, and Cornell sociologist Kim Weeden.

Now, I want to talk about my experience. Twice, I was invited to speak at the Freedom Project. The first time, I spoke about whether social movements promote freedom. I argued that it’s mixed – some do and some don’t. The second time, I gave a talk about the “common grounds” argument for open borders. This is the idea that conservatives and liberals should both be in favor of free migration.

Each time I visited, I came during the winter “intersession.” For about a week, fifteen undergraduates read together, debated, and listen to outside speakers, including myself. When I visited the class, the students were engaged. When I asked about their political leanings, the average would probably be described as “Hillary Clinton” democrat. Of course, I wanted them to agree with my views – but many didn’t and there was much active debate.

I also got to meet other speakers. I did meet many who were conservative and libertarian. But I also sat in on a lecture by one of Wellesley’s philosophy professors, who actually produced arguments *against* unrestricted free speech. I also met Nadya Hajj, who gave an incredibly engaging talk about how people maintain Palestinian economy and community in the occupied territories.

During my last trip, I set aside some time to interview one of the staff at Wellesley’s art museum because I am working on a project about the careers of visual artists. During my interview, I was told that Tom Cushman was one of the faculty members who defended some controversial art that had been brought to the campus a few years back. That is important to know because Professor Cushman is not merely defending his free speech rights, but he defends the rights of others.

That was my experience. The Freedom Project is one professor’s attempt to bring a discussion of freedom to one of America’s greatest colleges. People of many different views and academic disciplines were brought in, the students vigorously debated the issues. It is funded by conservative and libertarians donors. That, by itself, is not a problem as long as donors do not direct the academic content of the unit.

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Written by fabiorojas

April 2, 2018 at 4:01 am

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