Opinion by Kiran Sridhar
Oct. 20, 2015, 11:59 p.m.

Like many other college campuses, Stanford is a bastion of intellectual liberalism. Students, administrators and staff largely hold a political philosophy that is meant to be rational, and governed by scientific and empirical fact. It is an ideology that believes that climate change is an indisputable scientific fact and that stem cell research has the potential to save millions of lives. But all too often, liberals on campus do not base their decisions on rationality as much as emotion.

Consider the reaction on campus to the issue of gun violence. After the Umpqua Community College mass shooting, numerous students expressed belief that another nine innocent people had died because of our nation’s inability to enact sensible gun control. And many in our community were outraged when Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill permitting the possession of concealed weapons on college campuses.

Stanford students widely circulated protests of the law — including the resignation letter of a professor who stated that the new policy increased the “risk that a disgruntled student might bring a gun into the classroom” — throughout social media. But their contempt for such open carry policies is not supported by data.

A comprehensive study of U.S. crime records by economists John Lott and David Mustard found an association between right-to-carry laws and lower crime rates. And while the Lott-Mustard finding is controversial, a survey of current research published in the Maryland Law Review found that 18 studies concluded that right-to-carry laws reduced violent crime, 10 showed “no discernible effect,” and only one concluded that such laws increased crime.

Many in the Stanford community are willing to strip college students of their weapons, undermining the deeply-rooted constitutional right to bear arms — a right that James Madison asserted “shall not be infringed” — for statistical evidence that suggests that right-to-carry laws have no effect on or actually reduce crime.

Or consider the reaction to the recent Stanford Campus Climate Survey. Many on campus criticized the report’s emphasis on the statistic that 1.9 percent of students suffer from sexual assault; they argued that the report obscured the fact that the incidence of all sexual misconduct at Stanford is dramatically higher.

One student activist went so far as to say that by delineating between sexual abuse and broader cases of sexual misconduct, university leaders were “prioritizing their own image over the safety of students.”

But in reality, the survey helps clarify the problem of sexual abuse on campus. Stanford’s definition of sexual misconduct is broad: It is characterized by anything from rape to “sexual touching without consent.” All forms of sexual misconduct are unconscionable, but different preventative strategies and punitive procedures are required for varying offenses.

By precisely depicting the prevalence of different forms of sexual misconduct, Stanford’s administration is attempting to foster an honest campus-wide conversation. But many liberals on campus appear intent not to have such a conversation, trumpeting misleading statistics that preclude honest engagement.

Discourse on sexual assault on campus is not merely academic; discussions between students, activists and the administration have a tangible impact on policy. When fallacious arguments and deceiving statistics dominate public discourse, University policy is likely to be influenced in a deleterious manner.

In a 1904 speech to the Board of Trustees, Jane Stanford stated that the institution she founded ought to “outgrow old thoughts and ways, and dare to think on new lines as to the future of the work under our care.”

In order to grow and develop new mindsets, Stanford students — the leaders of tomorrow — must engage in free and open discourse on the most important issues facing our community and society. But in order for true discourse to happen, liberals must move past emotional positions decoupled from fact.


Contact Kiran Sridhar at ksridhar ‘at’

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