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By Jack Kralik

This year, Binghamton distributed the book Conditional Citizens by Laila Lalami to the incoming freshman class. This is not a book review, but an objective examination of Binghamton choosing to deliver this book to students with its clear political bias. What does this say about the objective nature of the University? And further, what does this say about the nature of our time and education here at Binghamton?

It is necessary to consider the difference between education and indoctrination. It posits for us a difficult, and in many ways entirely subjective, determination. We must, as a basic function, discern what knowledge is appropriate, in the given environment, to be passed down to students. Yet this rises above the simple and arbitrary task of the information’s objective validity. It is objectively true that light travels at a constant speed C in a vacuum, but that information would be appropriate to teach in a geography class, not an economics class. Likewise, it is objectively verifiable that there are 206 bones in the human body, but this information would be inappropriate for a writing class, and would instead find a better home in a biology class.

Things brings us to the issue of Conditional Citizens. To avoid a subjective book review I will only focus on objective observations from the text. Mainly, the last chapter, Do Not Despair of This Country, where Lalami articulates in detail her ideal for a thriving democracy. She criticizes voter ID laws, “In a thriving pluralistic democracy… voter ID laws, polling station closures, and lengthy residence requirements are eliminated.” She demands that prisoners and people with felony records have equal access to the vote declaring: “The right to vote is also perennial. The 1.5 million Americans who are currently serving prison sentences and the 6.1 million who have felony records are no less entitled to electoral representation and are no less capable of rational political choice than anyone else.” She advocates for socialist policy: “Equal citizens have social rights to education, healthcare, a living wage, safe drinking water, and clean air.” And lastly, she makes a claim about the necessity of abortion… to protect democracy: “Equal citizens have ownership of their bodies… and freedom to make medical decisions about pregnancy, abortion, and end of life care.” 

For a public, taxpayer-funded, university, the question should not be whether or not the book they distribute is an enjoyable or provocative read. There are numerous books appealing to young adults that successfully touch upon difficult and topical issues. The question should not be whether or not this particular book is of an appropriate reading level for our students. Of the millions of books published, it is not difficult to find numerous at an acceptable level for incoming freshmen. The question that needs to be asked is simple: is the subject matter appropriate to be distributed by a publicly funded university? This is not the same as asking if the given information is objectively true or not, a point I hope I made clear.

So regardless of your politics, I challenge you to consider those quotes above and to ask yourself if the book is appropriate for a university to distribute. Does it promote and inspire the open exchange of ideas and challenge students to broaden their thinking? Or does it shut down discourse in favor of explicitly telling students how to vote? Whether or not you personally agree with these statements is irrelevant in determining if this level of blatant political pressure should be permitted on our campus or promoted by our university. Should a university have the right to use our tuition to indoctrinate students and compel them to see the world through a left-leaning political lens? I say no! I will unapologetically assert that it is grossly inappropriate of a university to distribute material to every incoming freshman, urging them over the course of 180 pages to vote democrat. It’s wrong this way, and it would be wrong if it was the other way around. We as students must work to ensure this action is deemed unacceptable and inappropriate by our university. Only we can achieve equality.

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