A forceful argument on behalf of the modern university.
Having established himself as a visionary when he was president of NYU (2002-2015), Sexton (Baseball as a Road to God, 2013, etc.) argues that a university that returns to basic principles and extends its horizons offers a remedy to the madness of our current political discourse. Well before he became a scholar of religion or a law school dean, the author honed his analytical skills as a debater and debate coach, thriving in a competitive arena in which he learned the importance of listening and carefully considering opposing views in order to sharpen the response. It was an exchange where “participants lived in a world of ideas and were committed to testing their views.” In contemporary discourse, that world has been reduced to memes and slogans, sacrificing nuance and complexity, and opposing views are too often ridiculed or silenced rather than considered. We now live in a world that suffers from what Sexton terms “secular dogmatism…a close-mindedness, or lack of intellectual openness.” Universities, he maintains, “should serve as incubators for a new secular ecumenism,” which does not merely accommodate a variety of different political viewpoints and religious faiths, but embraces the diversity of the world at large, reflecting an increasingly globalized culture. In a time in which there are strong inclinations toward building walls against such diversity, Sexton believes that higher education must re-establish itself as a “ ‘sacred space’ for critical reflection” and “the meaningful testing of ideas.” The university must be a space where rigorous debate and intellectual exchange can flourish. The author shows how NYU has developed into a global institution with international portal campuses, and he suggests that higher education as a whole can be a powerful force for a better world.
Sexton clearly shows how less shouting and more listening can lead to a reclaiming of a lost middle ground.