Civility is lacking in our mini “Arena of Ideas”

I was struck last week by the thought that courtesy is in fact a dying quality on our campus. A little over a year ago in my first column for the Hurricane I posed this question as it applies to students’ injudicious use of personal mobile communications devices as well as the unrestrained operation of one’s oral cavity in a zone reserved for quiet. It goes beyond this however in some of the discourse we see here in these hallowed pages.

As we were all reminded last week we don’t write, “to win over friends.” True enough, but we also don’t write because we’re all so inarticulate that we have to call each other’s work, “condescending and hypocritical.” Having said that, I am under no illusion that some of you may be finding some of what I write, “condescending.” If what you read makes you mad and gets you to either think about an issue differently or even to write a letter to the editor, then I’ve done my job. It is not however, either an honorable way to respond nor representative of clear intellectual discourse, to descend to the level of a personal attack on those with whom you do not agree.

Newspapers have as their primary purpose the dissemination of events to keep the public informed. They have an obligation to present information in a factual and honest basis and to report events free of the biases of those doing the reporting. Some newspapers, like the one you are reading now, are successful at this while for others that success is debatable.

Opinion sections of university newspapers, particularly this one, have a somewhat different mission. Theirs is to be a forum for the presentation of ideas – a mini “arena of ideas,” if you will – where columnists put forth strong opinions and students respond through letters to the editor. It is not a place where columnists should be attacking other columnists by name just because they don’t agree with what someone else wrote. The section would soon degenerate it that which it was never supposed to be and the entire discussion of ideas would be lost.

Getting an education is about expanding your mind and your horizons. The key to that is a debate of the ideas presented, not the labeling of the debater as, “condescending,” or “incomprehensible.” That sort of discourse belongs to presidential candidates.

Scott Wacholtz can be reached at