Continuing debate over campus protests and the Middle East (letter)

February 7, 2024
28 Views

Views is the opinions section of Inside Higher Ed. As higher education professionals, we know that stating one’s opinion—no matter how passionately—isn’t enough. As expected from our students, one should support one’s opinion with reasons or evidence. Without support, one’s opinion is just an opinion and nothing more. Instead of mere opinions, we expect reasoned arguments from our students and colleagues.

In my “Are Students Embracing Ignorance? Or Violence?” I offered the following argument. Students who chant calls for violence on college campuses in America do so ignorantly or knowingly. If they do so ignorantly, then higher education has failed them (because we failed to teach them the philosophical meaning and historical context of the threats of violence they chant). If they do so knowingly, then higher education has failed them (because we failed to teach them that nonviolent struggles against injustice are morally superior to violent ones). Therefore, higher education has failed students. This is a constructive dilemma, which is a valid argument form.

Clarissa Mansfield, in a response to my essay, disagrees with my argument. I appreciate that, and I respect her opinion. But it seems to be just that, an opinion, and nothing more. As far as I can tell, she doesn’t offer any reasons or evidence to counter my argument. She asserts, without argument, that “we are letting our students down,” not for the reasons I offer in my piece, “but rather because we are afraid to create spaces for them to engage critically with information from all sources.” Maybe that’s true. But Mansfield offers no reasons to think that it is. After all, how does she know that “we are afraid”? Has she interviewed higher education leaders about the protests on their college campuses? Has she conducted a survey of faculty who teach Middle East studies? She doesn’t say.

Speaking of not saying things, rather than make an argument in support of her view, Mansfield attempts to impugn my intellectual honesty and moral integrity by speculating about what my piece doesn’t say. For her, the fact that my piece says nothing about the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza “suggests that” I’m the one “who need[s] to learn this lesson” about nonviolence, not the students.

This seems like an ad hominem attack of the sort that has no place in the opinion pages of news outlets, let alone one that covers higher education. Be that as it may, my piece makes no mention of the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza because that’s not the topic of my piece. My piece isn’t about the war in Gaza. It’s about protests on college campuses in America.

In her piece, Mansfield “ignores and disregards the actual violence against” Israelis that Hamas perpetrated on October 7. Does this suggest that Mansfield needs a lesson in nonviolence? Of course not. Rather than speculate about the intellectual honesty and moral integrity of one’s interlocutor, we should set a good example for our students by attacking arguments, not the people who make them.

—Moti Mizrahi
Associate professor of philosophy
Florida Institute of Technology



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