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  • Corey Lee Wilson

Academic Intellectual Diversity vs. Freedom of Expression

Apparently ideological “groupthink” isn’t just confined to the student admissions process; it also appears to pervade the faculty hiring and tenure-granting processes as well. According to longitudinal nationwide data collected by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, a dramatic leftward shift in the composition of university faculty occurred between 1989 and 2014.

As far back as October 29, 2003, a special Senate report concluded after a hearing before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, United States Senate, One Hundred Eighth Congress titled: Is Intellectual Diversity an Endangered Species on America's College Campuses? and that is was becoming more scarce and beginning to lean heavily leftward.

Whereas progressives comprised roughly 40 percent of the professoriate in the late 1980s, they comprise 60 percent today. Moderates (at 28 percent) and conservatives (at 12 percent) not only account for a smaller share of today’s faculty, but conservatives have practically reached “endangered species” status (a mere 5 percent) in the humanities and social sciences.

There is no denying the left-leaning political bias on American college campuses. As data from UCLA’s Higher Education Institute show, the professoriate has moved considerably leftward since the late 1980s, especially in the arts and humanities. In New England, liberal professors outnumber their conservative colleagues by a ratio of 28:1. This ratio is liberal madness!

Lack of Viewpoint Diversity in the Academy

Growing skepticism about the current direction of American higher education isn’t just found among those on the center-right. For example, a center-left New York University professor named Dr. Jonathan Haidt teamed with Greg Lukianoff, a former ACLU attorney who now heads the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), to write a 2015 article for The Atlantic magazine entitled, “The Coddling of the American Mind.” The essay, which became the second-most-cited article in the long history of The Atlantic, directed heavy criticism at “microaggressions,” “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” “speech codes,” and other attempts to narrowly define the boundaries of acceptable discourse in higher education.

In prior posts, we focused on student viewpoint diversity and also touched on academic orthodoxy. In this post the focus is on academia’s intellectual viewpoint orthodoxy which is mostly discriminating against conservative viewpoints. It’s a growing problem and both the dramatic leftward shift in the composition of university faculty are interconnected and issues of enormous concern.

The leftward tilt of today’s academic life hurts scholars–and would-be scholars–of a more conservative bent. Most all the modern arguments of progressivism, post-modernism, and the New Left fail the basic tenants of practical logic, common sense, and sapience.

Without viewpoint diversity and intellectual humility acting as the checks and balances essential to validate the academic standards, truth and logic behind new causes, issues, and programs can degrade and diminish and in turn academic and ideological orthodoxy become the norm with our academic institutions as well as the student bodies that determine the limits of free speech on campus.

Campuses that are overwhelmingly dominated by one ideological perspective are much more vulnerable to violations of free speech (and the embarrassing public relations problems that go with them) since the absence of viewpoint diversity can lead to the trampling of First Amendment rights. Put another way, free speech is more likely to be defended vigorously when more viewpoint diversity is present – the latter is perhaps the best guarantee of the former’s defense.

Truth is a process, not just an end-state. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion is a 2012 social psychology book by Dr. Jonathan Haidt, is about the obstacles to that process, such as confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, tribalism, and the worship of sacred values. Given the many ways that our moral psychology warps our reasoning, it’s a wonder we’ve gotten as far as we have, as a species.

That’s what’s so brilliant about science: it is a way of putting people together so that they challenge each other and cancel out each other’s confirmation biases and tribal commitments. The truth emerges from the interaction of flawed individuals.



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