ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

A Respectful Collision of Ideas

April 12, 2018 by Doug Sprei and Elliott Cole

On April 5, the Steamboat Institute and the University of Maryland hosted a remarkable public dialogue between two charismatic luminaries who are far apart on the geopolitical spectrum: Nigel Farage, former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (and a chief architect of Brexit), and Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico. Their debate, titled “Nationalism vs. Globalism,” drew over 700 students, faculty, and members of the public. This was an event that ACTA was proud to co-sponsor.

From left to right: Nigel Farage, Mary Kissell, and Vicente Fox

In his opening remarks, University of Maryland President Wallace Loh spoke of the challenges facing higher education in a highly polarized society. “This is one of the most fraught times in our country, and around the world, there is an incredible amount of distrust, of incivility, of people not able to listen respectfully without demonizing the other side, and there is paralysis.

“You as the next generation own this challenge: how to have unity in the rich diversity that we have. Where does higher education come into all of this? We do a fantastic job at this university, training you in knowledge and skills to be productive citizens and get a job, but I’m not so sure we have been so successful in training you to become responsible citizens who know how to live rightly in a free society. Not just us, but all in American higher education.

“And so, given the fact that my office has gotten many letters and emails asking that this debate be canceled, they were outraged that I as president would allow this to proceed, I simply feel terrible, I feel that we have not done our job. The role of a university is not to make ideas safe for students, it is to educate students to be safe for ideas, even ideas that they disagree with.”

“The role of a university is not to make ideas safe for students, it is to educate students to be safe for ideas, even ideas that they disagree with.” – President Wallace Loh

Moderated superbly by Mary Kissell of the Wall Street Journal, the session was punctuated only once by a student resorting to the ‘heckler’s veto.’ – allowing Nigel Farage and President Fox to launch into a rigorous, energetic debate defending their views on nationalism and globalism respectfully.

Controversial speakers continue to challenge the insular mindset dominating many colleges and universities across the country. Many institutions are striving to respect viewpoint diversity and foster an atmosphere of inclusiveness. This debate was a shining example of how a university can orchestrate an event that allows different opinions to be presented. This is what higher education should be.

At ACTA, we continue to advocate for the adoption of the Chicago Principles at colleges and universities across the country. We applaud the University of Maryland and the Steamboat Institute for their vision in demonstrating that rigorous and respectful dialogue is a mainstay of American higher education.

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