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  • Writer's pictureCorey Lee Wilson

How heterodox are your university, students and academia?

The Heterodox Academy ratings reveal the good, the bad and the ugly about the intellectual diversity on 150 leading campuses and published a rating of the intellectual diversity and free speech friendliness of 150 of America's more prominent universities and colleges.

The goal of the Heterodox Academy group is to find "ways of improving the academy by enhancing viewpoint diversity and the conditions that encourage free inquiry." The founding academicians of the Heterodox Academy all endorse this statement:

"University life requires that people with diverse viewpoints and perspectives encounter each other in an environment where they feel free to speak up and challenge each other. I am concerned that many academic fields and universities currently lack sufficient viewpoint diversity—particularly political diversity. I will support viewpoint diversity in my academic field, my university, my department, and my classroom."

Why Does This Matter?

Most people know that professors in America, and in most countries, generally vote for left-leaning parties and policies. But few people realize just how fast things have changed since the 1990s. An academic field that leans left (or right) can still function, as long as ideological claims or politically motivated research is sure to be challenged.

But when a field goes from leaning left to being entirely on the left, the normal safeguards of peer review and institutionalized disconfirmation break down. Research on politically controversial topics becomes unreliable because politically favored conclusions receive less-than-normal scrutiny while politically incorrect findings must scale mountains of motivated and hostile reasoning from reviewers and editors.

When it comes to measuring the true quality of a learning institution, conventional measures of academic quality are relatively useless if the intellectual life of the university is skewed in a manner that (intentionally or unintentionally) suppresses unfashionable ideas and alternative points of view.

Countering campus “groupthink” is part of what led to the creation of Heterodox Academy. “When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged,” they write.

President Roth Calls on Universities to Promote Intellectual Diversity

On May 11, 2017, Wesleyan President Michael Roth’s statement about heterodoxy was published in The Wall Street Journal regarding the need for colleges and universities to proactively cultivate intellectual diversity on campus. While student protests over controversial speakers have dominated headlines of late, he writes:

The issue, however, isn’t whether the occasional conservative, libertarian or religious speaker gets a chance to speak. That is tolerance, an appeal to civility and fairness, but it doesn’t take us far enough. To create deeper intellectual and political diversity, we need an affirmative-action program for the full range of conservative ideas and traditions, because on too many of our campuses they seldom get the sustained, scholarly attention that they deserve.

Our present political circumstances should not prevent us from engaging with a variety of conservative, religious, and libertarian modes of thinking, just as they shouldn’t prevent us from engaging with modes of thinking organized under the banner of progressivism or critical theory. Such engagement might actually lead to greater understanding among those who disagree politically, and it might also allow for more robust critical and creative thinking about our histories, our present and the possibilities for the future.

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