I read the Star-Telegram to keep up with the place I used to call home: TCU. Recently, I found an interesting article about the conservative voice at TCU, and thought of David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water.”
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how's the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
This parable demonstrates simple things can be taken for granted, even forgotten. Through it Wallace suggests that the value of a liberal arts education is the ability to question and define your own certitudes.
I applaud the conservative students seeking to voice concerns; after all, diversity of opinions is a core value of TCU. However, I am troubled that it seems they seek to silence as much as they seek to speak up.
Without getting into an anecdotal war of whether “perceived liberal bias” exists at TCU, I find the implicit suggestions of Mr. Van Hyfte’s statements regarding TCU’s faculty and staff problematic.
First, by claiming there is a culture of “indoctrination,” Van Hyfte paints professors as so self-absorbed with their own certainty that they are incapable of engaging with opposing beliefs. Secondly, it implies that TCU students are too fragile to engage with dissonant views and they are helpless in the face of “the indoctrination.” Moreover, I struggle to identify this proposed solution. Is the alternative to the alleged liberal bias the creation of a conservative bias?
In the real world, you will come across those that do not agree with you. In fact, it is safe to assume it will happen more than at TCU (considering TCU is ranked the 13th most conservative student population).
In 2015, TCU ranked 177th out of the 179 schools on the New York Times Access Indicator, a ranking based on accessibility for less privileged individuals. While TCU does tout a Community Scholars program catering to high-achieving students with lower-class backgrounds, TCU mostly represents a bubble of privilege and, frankly, whiteness. TCU’s hovers around 72% white and is comprised of a majority of students from the top 10% of the wealth bracket.
How you will tolerate opposing beliefs—the ability to agree to disagree—depends on your exposure to them and your ability to understand the reasons underlying why other people think the way they do. This idea, when coupled with our ability to tailor our consumption to confirm our existing belief structures, suggests that school may be one of the last places for students to be challenged by people outside of their information silo.
Liberal arts institutions must encourage us to embrace the “marketplace of ideas” and embrace opportunities that will encourage students to think outside of their “default-setting.” This principle of openness is why TCU can host guests like journalist Shaun King, and Lieutenant Colonel Allen B. West.
I fear what is being proposed is an echo chamber—a place where only certain ideas are heard and held as truth, like when Ben Shapiro blasted the TCU administration for ceding to leftist myths of diversity and white privilege back in 2016. What Shapiro failed to consider was that the TCU administration was, perhaps, simply seeking to improve itself as an institution by acknowledging a broader frame and embracing the tried calculus of “it is probably not good to be ranked last in something.”
The point isn’t necessarily of right and wrong, but that the world is riddled with complex problems and an infinite number of worldviews. This is water, my fellow Horned Frog; now, you must decide whether you want to swim with the rest of us and deal with it or stay in the shallows of your own opinion.
Ethan Murray graduated from TCU’s Political Science Department in 2016 and is pursuing a master’s in public policy.