A sophomore at Columbia University is arguing that the feminist philosophy class he took last semester was “indoctrination,” and that voicing dissent was “nearly unthinkable.”
Coleman Hughes, a black philosophy major, detailed his experiences taking the school’s feminist philosophy class in an article for Heterodox Academy. The site publishes articles related to viewpoint diversity and free inquiry on campus.
Despite having taken philosophy classes before, Hughes says he was struck by how differently his feminist philosophy class operated. He took two philosophy classes last semester, and writes that his professors diverged greatly in how they taught.
In the more generic philosophy course he took, Hughes says he would read the work of philosopher, such as Thomas Nagel, “then spend much of the class exposing any weaknesses that Nagel’s argument might have.”
“We don’t hold anyone’s views as sacred, or even special. We debate with one another; I even argue with the professor at times. The prevailing mood encourages friendly but lively debate. It’s challenging, good-natured, and fun,” writes Hughes.
But his feminist philosophy course at Columbia was different. No debate.
No banter back and forth with the professor. And, no, the professor — whom Hughes doesn’t name — didn’t encourage students to attack the weaknesses of any given argument or theory.
Instead, Hughes and his classmates were assigned to read theorists like Foucault. Here, the mood was “strikingly different,” he says. “Rarely does a single person even ask a question, to say nothing of making a critique,” he adds.
If you’ve ever taken a Women’s Studies class, this might not surprise you. Women’s studies classes operate on conformity and agreement, while philosophy classes operate on debate and logical analyses. If a class draws from both disciplines, appreciation of debate may not carry over. Indeed, in this case, it didn’t.
“I got the sense that the professor was wedded to the material, such that a critique of the material would have been synonymous with a critique of her,” he writes, adding that “voicing a strong pushback against any idea that the Professor favored was nearly unthinkable.”
In an interview with PJ Media, Hughes said he was drawn to write an op-ed for Heterodox Academy after he read The Righteous Mind by NYU professor Jonathan Haidt, who was one of Heterodox Academy’s founding fathers.
Since Hughes hadn’t met a single conservative while growing up, he says the book helped him get out of the “people-who-disagree-with-me-are-evil” mindset, and that it affirmed his willingness to hearing viewpoints from people who disagree with him.
Of the feminist philosophy class he took, Coleman argued that free inquiry and debate is especially crucial. “If you never learn the evidence against what you believe, you can never know that what you believe is actually right,” the Columbia student told PJ Media.
“When a professor only recognizes a very narrow range of viewpoints on a particular topic, students get the sense that respectable, decent people hold viewpoints only within that narrow range,” Hughes added.
Not only did his professor fail to explore alternative views, but Hughes said his professor also ridiculed students who held dissenting viewpoints and suggested that they were evil, citing an in-class debate the professor facilitated on whether biological sex differences exist.
“The assumption that alternative viewpoints are prima facie stupid and evil is the opposite of critical thinking, yet it was a very common teaching method for this particular philosophy professor,” Hughes concluded.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen