Religious Faith at URI and Intellectual Diversity

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The blind spot and contradiction in Lynn Arditi’s Providence Journal article, yesterday, about the religious beliefs of University of Rhode Island President David Dooley are so huge that Rhode Island progressives would feel the chill of its shadow if they were able to conceive of it.  Start at the end of the article:

One of the best reasons to go to college, Dooley said, is to explore one’s beliefs and ideas about the world in a safe environment. And a public university like URI, he said, is the best place to do that exploration.

“You don’t find the diversity” at religious institutions or small private colleges, he said, as you do at a large public university. “There’s an understanding of what the acceptable boundaries are of faith. The best place to get an education is when you’re in the midst of a place where people don’t think like you … where people have the ability to build bridges and find common ground.”

So a large public university is a place where faith is kept in the box that the (largely left-wing and secularist) academics believe it belongs.  Now flip back to the beginning of the article:

The president of the University of Rhode Island on Thursday publicly addressed a topic rarely broached by leaders of secular academic institutions.

How much diversity can there really be and how much exploration can students really do when a major part of anybody’s intellectual foundation (a belief system) is shoved beyond “boundaries” that universities’ “leaders” seldom cross — particularly when the Christian perspective that has informed the development of Western civilization and that still undergirds the beliefs of most Americans is targeted for special dismissal?

Toward the end of my own time at URI a decade and a half ago, when I was still an atheist, I attended some sort of honors colloquium event at which leaders from various faiths presented an audience-participation-heavy discussion.   An organizer later told me that the priest and rabbi who led the discussion were surprised by the hostility of some of the students, but I think that slightly misses the real atmosphere.

The problem was that there was no counterbalance to the few students who were actively and arrogantly hostile.  One could have picked those students out of a line up simply by having been told what their attitude had been.  But the religious authorities in the room were clearly timid about imposing their views (that is, defending their beliefs).  As for the students, any strong believers must have learned to keep their religious beliefs within their “acceptable boundaries,” and all of us who fell somewhere between them and the hostiles simply had not learned how to integrate religious topics into an intellectual discussion, except as targets for shooting straw men with secularist guns.

I don’t think it extrapolates too much to suggest that that atmosphere at a large public university at the turn of the millennium explains quite a bit about our current problems and the collapse of intellectual life.



  • Rhett Hardwick

    This is not a discussion of religion, it is simply a paean to “diversity”. Any number of philosophies could be substituted for religion and the response would be the same.

  • Joe Smith

    Maybe Dooley needs to look at his own school’s survey of its students:

    http://web.uri.edu/ir/files/NSSE13-Engagement-Indicators-URI-OLR.pdf

    URI doesn’t exactly light the world on fire in areas such as diverse discussion or supportive campus; more interesting is the overall “NE Publics” compared to the larger benchmark schools (which include privates) – NE publics score much lower in those areas.

    Maybe Dooley needs to look at what his student are saying..

  • bottomfish

    The concepts of true “diversity” and “safe spaces” are inherently contradictory. Clearly in a “safe space” there are some dangerous ideas that must not be expressed. There are some ideas that a “safe space” cannot accommodate, because in a truly “diverse” environment, there are some ideas that are unsafe. If there were no unsafe ideas, there would be no need for safe spaces. All the same, some unsafe ideas may be true, so we cannot reject them out of hand. These platitudes have no inherent connection with religion, because religious ideas are a subset of all ideas. Sometimes it is not even clear whether an idea is religious or not. For example, you may believe in God, but your conception of God differs from that of any religion you know of. That does not make it any more or less safe, or valid, than it would otherwise be.

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