Our institutions of higher education are waging a war on truth 

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Since Oct. 7, Americans of various political persuasions have seen a sizable group of undergraduate and graduate students attending the nation’s most elite universities profess sympathy with Hamas, the terrorist group that slaughtered over 1,200 Israelis in an unexpected attack on civilians, including women and children.  

At Harvard University, 34 student organizations signed a statement on “the situation in Palestine” that begins: “We, the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” 

Many alumni of these institutions who self-identify as liberal — and have mixed and, in many cases, critical opinions of the Israeli government — are no less surprised than horrified to learn that students at their alma maters, as well as the leftist flank of their (and my) Democratic Party, apparently find the rape and murder of girls and women, the slaughter of grandparents, and the beheading of babies justifiable under the dubious banner of “decolonization.” What manner of people could accept and even endorse such obvious evil? 

I am a political moderate and registered Democrat who, like many of my fellow centrist and left-leaning millennials, became politically homeless in practice when the party moved left in the 2010s and then was driven off a leftward cliff by Gen Z in 2020. I earned my undergraduate degree from an Ivy League school nearly 15 years ago, and then my master’s and doctoral degrees from a big state school and a mid-size Catholic university, respectively. I also taught in universities of various kinds until last year. 

As a result, the apparent zeal for antisemitic terrorism among so many of today’s most elite learners does not surprise me. 

Not because I learned, over my nearly two decades in the academy, that students are bad people or indifferent to suffering. Quite the opposite. Most students (and most faculty and staff) are kind and empathetic — so indiscriminately empathetic, in fact, they can become genuinely incapable of considering facts when reality conflicts with a narrative about oppression. 

Palestine has been deemed an unequivocal victim and Israel an unequivocal victimizer by a mainstream media whose ever more elite-educated denizens have become hell-bent on proving their own virtue, by never acknowledging moral agency among those who can provide emotionally salient evidence of marginalization. 

Meanwhile, many of the nation’s best and brightest students are inculcated literally from infancy in the patronizing chicness of taking their own and others’ feelings (and relative privilege, or lack thereof) into consideration when making what should be dispassionate assessments of their own and others’ merit and behavior. They accept without question the deeply bigoted premise that anyone who claims a historically marginalized identity lacks all individual accountability. 

To acknowledge Israel’s suffering at the hands of those that took innocent civilian lives, its right to defend itself and its people from terrorism, and the ethical superiority of its democratic government to Palestine’s militant one, requires an acceptance of moral truth over prescribed oppression narrative. 

That’s why someone like me, who’s been looking soberly for years at universities’ denial of far simpler truths — for example, the biological distinction between “male” and “female” — cannot really be surprised by this disturbingly widespread zeal for violent so-called “decolonization” in the Middle East. 

Many will resist my appearing to draw an equivalency between the acceptance of a self-identified trans woman onto a swim team and the acceptance of wanton slaughter in Israel. Let me be quite clear that there is no moral comparison: rape and murder are morally heinous in a way that differs in both degree and kind from other wrongs. Yet, from a pedagogical perspective, the two are one and the same. They involve the abandonment of a given truth because that truth disrupts the hip understanding of some identity (“trans woman,” “colonizer,” and so on). 

All variable gendered norms of attire and behavior aside, there is no longer-standing or more indisputable truth than that of sexual dimorphism among human beings. Nor is it in scientific dispute that adult males are on average far larger, faster and stronger than adult females. Women run races against other women rather than against men for the same reason that 6-year-olds run races against other 6-year-olds rather than against 16-year-olds: to provide a forum for genuine competition

Yet, when a male swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania decided to compete as a woman, claiming a marginalized gender identity, the entire academic establishment — from his university, to the other universities, to the NCAA — accepted this individual’s narrative over and above the scientific truth that exists irrespective of any person’s self-understanding. As a result, female athletes lost roster spots, trophies and privacy. 

More importantly, the higher education sector lost the intellectual and educational high ground of adherence to scientific truth. They reached reflexively for solidarity with the ostensibly marginalized without stopping to consider whether or not the claims of said marginalized comport with reality, and took succor in being on trend. 

But now that it’s apparently trendy to cheer the murders of Jewish men, women and children because of one interpretation of a complicated conflict from 71 years ago, many progressives are noticing that there is indeed something rotten in academia. 

This rotten thing is the abandonment of education itself, the ostensible purpose of which is the pursuit of truth — even when, and especially when, that truth conflicts with broad and politically expedient narratives. 

So, what should sane liberals without leftist impulses do about the reality that many at our premier educational institutions are now in thrall to a philosophy that is fundamentally anti-education? 

My response as a parent is to begin explicitly inoculating my own young children against the weaponization of emotive, utopian victimology by emphasizing the differences between facts, opinions and feelings. My hope as a citizen is that more of my fellow parents will begin to recognize the need for such preemptive measures and do the same. 

If so, the higher education sector might have, a decade or so from now, some prayer of once again living up to its name. 

Elizabeth Grace Matthew is a visiting fellow at Independent Women’s Forum and a Young Voices contributor. Her work has appeared in USA Today, America Magazine, Law and Liberty, Deseret News, Fairer Disputations, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

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