Diversity in higher education is Tan obsession that exists on nearly all colleges and universities (“The Downside of Diversity,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 3). The trouble is that it applies only to race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation – rather than to ideas.
Yet the latter is supposed to be the No. 1 reason that students pursue tertiary education in the first place. As things stand, they are being shortchanged. One of the reasons is the existence of tenure. It’s rare that it is given to those who break with prevailing dogma. As a result, students in turn are not exposed to divergent ideas. Speakers who hold unpopular views are either disinvited or booed.
The pursuit of truth on college campuses used to be taken for granted decades ago. But today, students and teachers who express ideas that run counter to what the majority believe pay a heavy price. I question if critical thinking skills can ever be developed under the circumstances.
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5 Replies to “Diversity of thought absent in higher education”
Agree that colleges place too much emphasis on achieving racial/ethnic/religious/gender diversity — not sure re gender diversity; if a college gets too far from 50/50 on gender, that will cause some potential applicants to rationally look elsewhere.
But, not sure how hostile colleges are to intellectual diversity. Have not seen much evidence re this one way or the other. My kids are long out of college and grandkids nowhere near college age, so I have little personal knowledge re how intellectually diverse colleges are today — at either the professor or student level.
Re tenure decisions — anecdotal evidence suggests holding dissenting views has always posed obstacles to obtaining tenure. Certainly, in the 1950s, the Red Scare played a large role in academic selection or rejection. More recently, friends who were college profs before they retired sometimes joked about how “office politics” played too large a role in tenure decisions — not Dem vs. Republican politics but rather kiss-up politics or philosophical politics (i.e., the pro-research approach vs. the pro-teaching approach or the pro-tech approach vs. the pro-liberal-arts approach).
Labor Lawyer: The atmosphere in higher education today is hostile to anything that does not toe the party line. Conservative speakers are disinvited by college administrators when students protest. Middlebury College still stands as the best example when students prevented the speaker from being heard. I’ve never seen such an appalling situation.
Labor Lawyer: On March 2, 2017, students prevented Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, from being heard because they didn’t share his views. Five dozen were disciplined for their behavior, but none were suspended or expelled, even though a faculty member was injured in the melee. These students preach tolerance except when it applies to those with whom they don’t agree.
Agree that Middlebury should have imposed tougher penalties on the students + should probably have arranged for police to be present at the lecture and for the arrest on trespassing charges of students who disrupted the lecture.
Not sure this reflects Middlebury’s — let alone other colleges’ — attitudes re intellectual diversity among its faculty and/or students. It’s possible/probable that Middlebury is ideology-blind in making its faculty appointments and student acceptances.
What the Middlebury/Murray incident reflects is the somewhat separate issue of what can/should a college administration do when confronted with student protesters who violate the rules. In my opinion, the college should warn students in advance that rule-violating protests will trigger severe discipline — particularly if the protests result in preventing a speaker from speaking or in physical injury + the college should follow-up with police protection for the speaker and imposition of suspension or dismissal for the protesters. But, it’s easy for me to take this position. It’s harder for a college president to do so. For the college president, taking this position involves several significant risks — 1) triggering a campus-wide protest against the president that shuts the college; 2) leaving the college administration indebted to the local police force (often a problem where the college would generally prefer that the local police not get involved in campus life); 3) upsetting at least some — perhaps all — members of the college’s board of trustees who will almost certainly each have their own individual take on what the president should be doing; 4) upsetting rich alumni who are donors or potential donors and who, like the trustees, will each have their own individual take so that it is likely the president will be irritating many no matter what he/she does.
Finally, there’s the issue of how much $ a college should be willing to spend to protect the free speech rights of a guest speaker. In theory, the college should be 100% committed to free speech. But, if the college administration reasonably believes that protesters (some students, some outsiders) will resort to violence and/or destruction of property if Speaker X speaks at the college + the administration reasonably believes it would cost — say — $500,000 to prevent and/or repair the violence/damage, does the administration spend that $500,000? Welcome the speaker but not spend the $, so that people are hurt and a lot of damage occurs? Disinvite the speaker? No easy answers. In theory, the administration should be able to get free police protection — at least if the college is a public college. But, the police do not show up for free to provide protection at college-sponsored rock concerts, for example. So, police might not show up for free at a college-sponsored speaker event.
Labor Lawyer: There are certainly consequences for college presidents who take a tough stand on controversial issues. But that goes with the territory. The majority of such officials are spineless when it comes to discipline. What happened at Middlebury was outrageous. It is a small, liberal arts college that prides itself on diversity. But diversity does not apply to ideas – only to race.