Since writing an open letter to college students telling them to toughen up, Oklahoma Wesleyan University (OKWU) president Everett Piper has been inundated with responses, most of them emphatic cries of, “Amen!”
From all over the country, people are writing via social media and email to thank Piper for his letter, entitled “This is not a day care. It’s a university!,” which he posted on the school’s website last week. National media outlets from Fox and Friends to The New York Times have interviewed him and quoted his post, which he wrote after a student at OKWU complained of feeling victimized by a sermon in the school’s chapel. The message on 1 Corinthians 13—which includes the famous Bible passage “Love is patient and kind”—made the student feel uncomfortable.
Piper not only rejected the complaint, but also denounced the way modern culture is teaching young people to demand protection from discomfort.
“Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic,” Piper wrote. He also took aim at colleges, notably the University of Missouri, that have capitulated to demands from student protesters. The chancellor and university system president both resigned earlier this month after student protesters blamed them for not addressing what they called systemic racism on campus.
Piper wrote that students should not be so self-centered: “Oklahoma Wesleyan is not a ‘safe place,’ but rather, a place to learn: to learn that life isn’t about you, but about others; that the bad feeling you have while listening to a sermon is called guilt; that the way to address it is to repent of everything that’s wrong with you rather than blame others for everything that’s wrong with them.”
In an interview with WORLD, Piper elaborated on his frustration with what he called the “ideological fascism” rising in academia.
“There isn’t an open and robust exchange of ideas where you’re pursuing truth,” he said, but instead an environment in which, “if you have a contrary idea, if you have a counter-cultural idea, if you dare bring a conservative idea to the table, you’re unwelcome.”
This wasn’t the first time Piper has expressed his frustrations. In 2007, he published a book called Why I’m a Liberal and Other Conservative Ideas that talked about the loss of ideological freedom in liberal arts education. He writes weekly columns and often is featured on talk radio.
“Why has this one caused a grassfire? I don’t know,” Piper said. “You might speculate that it’s because there are thousands and thousands, if not, perhaps, millions of people who recognize that if we dumb down the academic conversation to nothing but what is acceptable by the powerful and what is policed by those in control, then we’ve lost he very heart and soul of the liberal arts academy.”
Piper is not alone in his frustration. A week before he posted his letter, three students of The Claremont Colleges in Southern California published an editorial voicing similar concerns. A dean at the school resigned after sending an email referencing students who didn’t fit the “CMC mold,” which some interpreted as a racist remark.
But upperclass students Hannah Oh, Steven Glick, and Taylor Schmitt disagreed. They wrote they were disappointed in administrators for responding too soon without allowing time for debate, and they chastised their fellow students for making childish demands: “College is the last place that should be a safe space. We come here to learn about views that differ from our own, and if we aren’t made to feel uncomfortable by these ideas, then perhaps we aren’t venturing far enough outside of our comfort zone.”
Piper said critics who have scolded him for being too harsh on a student only prove his point.
“They’re focusing on feelings more than facts,” he said.
Still, there is room for debate, Piper said. That’s his point.
“If you have an idea that you want to express and express it in a civil and polite fashion, then let’s debate the idea,” he said. “Let’s trust the truth to be the judge.”