Some Thoughts and Advice for All Students

We are scholars and teachers at Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and other institutions who have some thoughts to share and advice to offer students across the country. Our advice can be distilled to three words:

Think for yourself.

Now, that might sound easy. But you will find that thinking for yourself can be a challenge. It always demands self-discipline and these days can require courage.

In today’s climate, it’s all-too-easy to allow your views and outlook to be shaped by dominant opinion on your campus or in the broader academic culture. The danger any student—or faculty member—faces today is falling into the vice of conformism, yielding to groupthink.

At many colleges and universities what John Stuart Mill called “the tyranny of public opinion” does more than merely discourage students from dissenting from prevailing views on moral, political, and other types of questions. It leads them to suppose that dominant views are so obviously correct that only a bigot or a crank could question them.

Since no one wants to be, or be thought of as, a bigot or a crank, the easy, lazy way to proceed is simply by falling into line with campus orthodoxies.

Don’t do that. Think for yourself.

Thinking for yourself means questioning dominant ideas even when others insist on their being treated as unquestionable. It means deciding what one believes not by conforming to fashionable opinions, but by taking the trouble to learn and honestly consider the strongest arguments to be advanced on both or all sides of questions—including arguments for positions that others revile and want to stigmatize and against positions others seek to immunize from critical scrutiny.

The love of truth and the desire to attain it should motivate you to think for yourself. The central point of a college education is to seek truth and to learn the skills and acquire the virtues necessary to be a lifelong truth-seeker. Open-mindedness, critical thinking, and debate are essential to discovering the truth. Moreover, they are our best antidotes to bigotry.

Merriam-Webster’s first definition of the word “bigot” is a person “who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.” The only people who need fear open-minded inquiry and robust debate are the actual bigots, including those on campuses or in the broader society who seek to protect the hegemony of their opinions by claiming that to question those opinions is itself bigotry.

So don’t be tyrannized by public opinion. Don’t get trapped in an echo chamber. Whether you in the end reject or embrace a view, make sure you decide where you stand by critically assessing the arguments for the competing positions.

Think for yourself.

 

Academic colleagues at institutions of higher learning around the country who would like to join us as signers of the “Think for Yourself” statement, please submit your name, title, institution, and email address (for identification purposes only) via the web form. Your email address will not be listed publicly or shared.

A version of this statement originally appeared on the James Madison Program website on August 29, 2017.
View the original statement from 28 Harvard, Princeton and Yale Professors
Read the response to the "Think for Yourself" statement here

  • Ajogbeje, Korede
    Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
  • Allen, Adeline
    Associate Professor
    Trinity Law School
  • Anibaba, Yetunde
    Dr.
    Lagos Business School
  • Appleman, Leonard
    Associate Professor of Medicine
    University of Pittsburgh
  • Balderas, Israel
    Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Law
    Palm Beach Atlantic University
  • Balmaceda, Justo
    Profesor de Filosofía del Derecho
    Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola
  • Beckwith, Francis
    Professor of Philosophy & Church-State Studies
    Baylor University
  • Biondi, Carrie-Ann
    Associate Professor of Philosophy
    Marymount Manhattan College
  • Bloom, Paul
    Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology
    Yale University
  • Bogan, Elizabeth
    Senior Lecturer in Economics
    Princeton University
  • Cabal, Dario
    Student
    Case Western Reserve University
  • Caneday, Ardel
    Professor of New Testament & Greek
    University of Northwestern—St. Paul
  • Cerami, Joe
    Director, Center for Ethical Leadership (Retired)
    University of St. Thomas - Houston
  • Christakis, Nicholas
    Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science
    Yale University
  • Clemens, Chris
    Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Senior Associate Dean of Natural Sciences
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Conlon, Joseph
    Professor
    University of Oxford
  • Cooper, Joseph
    Adjunct Professor
    Mercy College / Marist College
  • Covernton, Guillermo Luis
    Distinguished Professor of Macroeconomics and Public Finance
    Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina Santa María de los Buenos Aires
  • DeLoach, Andrew
    Asst. Professor, Director of Center for Human Rights
    Trinity Law School
  • Drake, R Paul
    Henry Smith Carhart Professor of Space Science
    University of Michigan
  • Duncan, Richard
    Sherman S. Welpton, Jr. Professor of Law and Warren R. Wise Professor of Law
    University of Nebraska College of Law
  • Eire, Carlos
    T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies
    Yale University
  • Enright, Marsha Familaro
    President
    The Great Connections
  • Epps, Peter G.
    Founding Fellow
    The Servi Institute
  • Evans, Charles
    Agnew H. Bahnson, Jr. Professor of Physics
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Ferderer, Pete
    Professor of Economics
    Macalester College
  • Forman, Howard
    Professor of Radiology, Economics, Management, and Public Health
    Yale University
  • Frank, Patrick
    Scientific Staff
    Stanford University
  • Fullman, Joshua
    Associate Professor of English
    Faulkner University
  • Galligan, David
    Professor of Animal Health Economics
    U of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine
  • Gantt, Edwin E.
    Professor of Psychology
    Brigham Young University
  • Garlock, Maria E.
    Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Co-Director of the Program in Architecture and Engineering
    Princeton University
  • Garnett, Richard
    Professor of Law
    University of Notre Dame
  • Gatdula, Jemy
    Dr.
    University of Asia and the Pacific
  • Gelernter, David
    Professor of Computer Science
    Yale University
  • George, Robert P.
    McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence; Director, James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions
    Princeton University
  • George, Elisa
    Adjunct Faculty
    University of Colorado - Denver
  • Glendon, Mary Ann
    Learned Hand Professor of Law
    Harvard University
  • Glišić, Branko
    Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
    Princeton University
  • Gould, Laurence I. ("Larry")
    Professor of Physics
    University of Hartford
  • Hall, Mark
    Herbert Hoover Distinguished Professor of Politics
    George Fox University
  • Happer, William
    Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics, Emeritus
    Princeton University
  • Harney, Jacob
    Professor of Biology
    Reinhardt University
  • Hartch, Todd
    Professor of History
    Eastern Kentucky University
  • Henary, Sara
    Assistant Professor of Political Science
    Missouri State University
  • Hicks, Stephen
    Professor of Philosophy
    Rockford University
  • Himmelfarb, Martha
    Professor of Religion
    Princeton University
  • Hollander, Robert
    Professor of European Literature and French and Italian, Emeritus
    Princeton University
  • Hoskin, Anthony
    Associate Professor of Criminology
    Idaho State University
  • Hubbard, Mark
    Professor of Agriculture
    College of the Ozarks
  • Hunt, Bruce
    Assistant Professor of Political Science
    Angelo State University
  • Jacobs, Michael
    Professor of the Practice of Finance
    University of North Carolina
  • Jedlovec, Phillip
    Lecturer in Mathematics
    Santa Clara University
  • Jewell, Jason
    Professor of Humanities
    Faulkner University
  • Katz, Joshua
    Cotsen Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Classics
    Princeton University
  • Katz, Jonathan
    Professor of Physics
    Washington University, St. Louis
  • Kearns, Sarah
    Ph.D. Candidate, Chemical Biology
    University of Michigan
  • Kelly, Thomas P.
    Professor of Philosophy
    Princeton University
  • Kidd, Thomas
    Distinguished Professor of History
    Baylor University
  • Klainerman, Sergiu
    Eugene Higgins Professor of Mathematics
    Princeton University
  • Kupfer, Charles
    Associate Professor, American Studies
    Penn State Harrisburg
  • Landrum, D. Brian
    Associate Professor of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering
    University of Alabama in Huntsville
  • Lash, Kurt
    E. Claiborne Robins Distinguished Professor of Law
    University of Richmond School of Law
  • Laukaitis, John
    Associate Professor of Education
    North Park University
  • LeMaire, Peter
    Professor & Chair, Department of Physics & Engineering Physics
    Central Connecticut State University
  • Lensing, George
    Mann Family Distinguished Professor of English Emeritus
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Leok, Melvin
    Professor of Mathematics
    University of California, San Diego
  • Levenson, Jon
    Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies
    Harvard University
  • Lindzen, Richard
    Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, Emeritus
    MIT
  • Londregan, John B.
    Professor of Politics and International Affairs
    Princeton University
  • MacLeod, Adam
    Professor of Law
    Faulkner University, Jones School of Law
  • Marshall, Robert
    Sachar Professor of Music emeritus
    Brandeis University
  • Masson, Scott
    Associate Professor of English Literature
    Tyndale University, Toronto, Canads
  • McGhee, Michael
    Associate Professor of Music
    Wesleyan College
  • McGuire, Kevin
    Professor of Political Science
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • McKelligan, Marcia
    Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy
    DePauw University
  • McNeilly, Mark
    Professor of the Practice
    University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
  • Mendenhall, Allen
    Associate Dean
    Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law
  • Merriam, Jesse
    Assistant Professor
    Loyola University Maryland
  • Meszaros, Andrew
    Associate Professor, School of Physical Therapy
    George Fox University
  • Miller, Steven
    Professor of Mathematics
    Williams College
  • Mooney, Margarita
    Associate Professor of Practical Theology
    Princeton Theological Seminary
  • Muñoz, Vincent Phillip
    Associate Professor of Political Science and Concurrent Associate Professor of Law
    University of Notre Dame
  • Murray, Bruce
    Associate Professor of Reading Education
    Auburn University
  • Phelan, Christopher
    Professor of Economics
    University of Minnesota
  • Pomykalski, James
    Associate Professor of Management
    Susquehanna University
  • Porter, Mason
    Professor of Mathematics
    UCLA
  • Recchiuti, John Louis
    Saffell Endowed Chair of Humanities & Professor of History
    University of Mount Union
  • Repsik, Beth
    Librarian
    Notre Dame High School
  • Reynolds, Michael A.
    Associate Professor of Near Eastern Studies
    Princeton University
  • Riedel, Brian
    Associate Professor of Pediatrics
    West Virginia University School of Medicine
  • Riley, Alexander
    Professor of Sociology
    Bucknell University
  • Rivers, Jacqueline C.
    Lecturer in Sociology and African and African-American Studies
    Harvard University
  • Rodriguez-Iturbe, Ignacio
    James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
    Princeton University
  • Rosen, Harvey S.
    John L. Weinberg Professor of Economics and Business Policy
    Princeton University
  • Ross, David S.
    Professor of Mathematics
    Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Rossiter, Caleb Stewart
    Adjunct professorial lecturer
    American University
  • Sheldon, Garrett Ward
    The John Morton Beaty Professor of Politics
    University of Virginia College at Wise
  • Siewers, Alfred Kentigern
    Associate Professor of English, Affiliate Faculty in Environmental Studies
    Bucknell University
  • Soltys, Michael
    Professor
    California State University Channel Islands
  • Spears, Donna
    Associate Dean for Information Resources
    Thomas Goode Jones School of Law, Faulkner University
  • Spence, David
    Adjunct Professor
    Lucas Graduate School of Business, San Jose State University
  • Stepp, Perry
    President and professor of New Testament
    Biblijski institut, Zagreb
  • Stricklen, John
    Adjunct Professor
    Johnson University
  • Stump, Craig
    Associate Professor of Medicine
    University of Arizona
  • Sunshine, Glenn
    Professor
    Central Connecticut State University
  • Swenson, Rod
    CESPA Fellow
    University of Connecticut
  • Thomas, William
    Instructor of Economics
    Siena College
  • Thorp, John
    McAllister Professor Obstetrics and Gynecology
    University of North Carolina
  • Tienda, Marta
    Maurice P. During Professor in Demographic Studies and Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School
    Princeton University
  • Turner, JT
    Assistant Professor of Philosophy
    Anderson University (SC)
  • Turner, P. Roger
    Assistant Professor of Philosophy
    Walters State Community College
  • Underwood, Shane
    Associate Professor of Finance
    Baylor University
  • Valis, Noël
    Professor of Spanish
    Yale University
  • VanderWeele, Tyler
    Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and Director of the Program on Integrative Knowledge and Human Flourishing
    Harvard University
  • Vermeule, Adrian
    Ralph S. Tyler, Jr. Professor of Constitutional Law
    Harvard University
  • Watson, Micah
    Associate Professor
    Calvin College
  • Weatherly, Jon
    Provost
    Johnson University
  • Whittington, Keith E.
    William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics
    Princeton University
  • Zack, Brian
    (former) Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
    UMDNJ - Robert Wood Johnson Medical School