Hearing the 'other' on GC's campus

Goshen College should invite speakers with viewpoints that oppose the college’s teaching position more often.

On Friday, December 4th, 2009, John Kauffman spoke to a roomful of GC science students and professors about global climate change.  More specifically, he argued that global climate change isn’t real…at least not in the sense that most people perceive it.

Kauffman argued that anthropogenic (man made) carbon dioxide is not causing global climate change, and that the Earth’s climate is not growing warmer because of human behavior.  This is a position that opposes the widely accepted view of the scientific community that global climate change is a result of rapidly increasing anthropogenic carbon dioxide emission levels.

Kauffman is a well educated man, with a science background.  He graduated from Goshen College and has a master’s degree, and he spent years working for Monsanto, engineering efficient crops to feed the world’s hungry masses.  He considers himself a skeptic, and his presentation made his self-image as a scientific outsider painfully apparent.

Kauffman’s argument directly opposes the GC science department’s teachings, but he was invited by Ryan Sensenig, associate professor of biology, to give an hour-long presentation to a large group of GC students and science profs.  This openness to hearing oppositional arguments is necessary at Goshen College, especially given the Mennonite Church’s history of non-conformist behaviors.  The science department knew that Kauffman’s opinions differed from GC’s teachings when they invited him.  In fact, that is one reason that they invited him (other than the fact that he had repeatedly asked for an on campus venue in which to express his opinion).

The science department’s willingness to expose students to information that they largely consider incorrect, but which is also a matter of ideology and opinion, is evidence of their understanding of this important idea: hearing ideas that totally conflict with our own, from people who we respect and believe to be credible, is an enriching, skepticism inspiring experience.  Skepticism, and the desire to seek credible information and use multiple sources to confirm what we hear, is at the heart of liberal arts education.

A similar situation of ‘other’ opinions being expressed on campus has arisen recently with the national anthem debate, much of which has played out as vitriolic ranting on the student opinion board in the union.  After last year’s upset, in which talk show host Mike Cunningham bashed GC on air for not playing the national anthem at sports games, GC’s administration decided to create a task force to decide whether now is a good time to start playing the anthem, or whether there is a better option.  By creating a task force, the college admitted that they were willing to bend tradition to incorporate the wants of the ‘other.’  This action was an invitation for opinions to be expressed, and so it happened that the opinion board filled up, the ‘Rott was abuzz and a whole perspectives page of The Record was devoted to various opinions on the anthem issue.  The college invited people with ‘other’ opinions to have their say, and set off a heated debate.  In among the angry retorts though, an important theme emerged.  Even in the face of a 100 year no-anthem tradition, oppositional voices will be heard!

The foundation of anabaptism was an act of opposition, and the willingness to work and live with people of various opinions is essential to success in the world.  Goshen College is doing a pretty good job so far of promoting openness to diverse mindsets.  Let’s keep it up.

Written by Chase Snyder

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