FCC testimony on media ownership: Mark Emmert

Robert, I would have much preferred to speak in front of you. I am Mark Emmert. I am the president of the University of Washington, but I am really here tonight as a citizen, not as the university’s president. As someone who has spent his entire life in education as either a student or as a teacher or as an academic administrator, my perspective on this is slightly different perhaps. I don’t pretend to be an expert on media consolidation and media ownership. I don’t really understand fully all of the economics of the dynamics that are going on in the media today.

What I do understand is the educational process. And, what I do understand is the role of universities, especially research universities in our society today. If you look at what happens at a university in an academic setting, what you see is that we are really in charge and charged with two simple tasks: one, the creation of new knowledge and new ways of understanding the world around us; and two, disseminating that information to our students and to the world beyond the ivy walls.

Now, the consolidation or homogenization of information, the homogenization of the distribution of ideas around cultural creation, and the lack of diversity that comes from that homogenization of opinions are completely and utterly antithetical to the creation of new knowledge, of new cultures, and the transmission of those to society. It is utterly impossible to have world class universities like the United States has if we do not have the free flow of ideas, a clear and open exchange of diverse opinions and views, and forums in which those can be objectively discussed, debated, and considered in a full and thoughtful fashion.

The consolidation of the media that I see around the United States that is underway right now is working exactly in the opposite of the directions that I -- as an educator -- think are healthy for our students, for our society, and for our educational enterprises. If one stops and thinks about young people coming to a university who only see single points of view in the media, who have only been fed cultural perspectives that are about as rich as fast food… if they have never heard a free and open debate of ideas, what kind of students are those going to be? What is the probability that they are going to challenge views and opinions in the classroom? What is the probability that they are going to be open to diverse opinions that they are going to hear in the university? What’s the probability that they, themselves, are going to be creative and invent new ideas going forward?

I have had the opportunity to go to universities in nations where the homogenization of opinions is, in fact, the only opinions that go forward. And you can find students there who are very good at math. You can find students who are very good at reciting the scientific facts of the day. But you will not find students who are creative. You will not find students who are pushing forward new scientific borders. You will not find students who want to debate issues with their classmates, let alone with their faculty. In short, you will not find the makings of democracy in those places. The free flow of ideas, the diversity of opinions, and the capacity to hear ideas locally and nationally is utterly critical to the educational enterprise. I salute your battle in this effort. I thank you for your good hard work. And I really appreciate you taking time to hear the voices of the people of Seattle. Thank you very much.

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey