Is There Viewpoint Diversity on Your Campus?
Colleges and universities—and their presidents, boards of trustees, faculties, and alumni—must maximize support for free expression, intellectual pluralism and most of all viewpoint diversity.
A 2016 Gallup survey found that more than one in four college students felt colleges should be able to restrict students from “expressing political views that are upsetting or offensive to certain groups,” while nearly half were open to restricting press access to public events.
Given the current undergraduate tendency toward intellectual orthodoxy, one wonders: Would the advances of the feminist movement even have happened, had the campus conformists of a half-century ago had their way?
Respect for freedom of speech and diversity of thought are essential for achieving civil and thoughtful discourse, but also for enabling societal progress itself. Progress relies on early agitators, who are willing to speak out and press forward, no matter the backlash they engender. Many ideas once considered heretical have become accepted wisdom, thanks to early dissenters challenging the tide.
Real change relied on the courage of young women during the 1960s and 1970s, who stood up for equal opportunity in higher education and the workforce. They faced vocal opposition from many college alumni, professors, and fellow students. Nevertheless, these women persisted, no matter how “problematic” their efforts may have been considered. Their determined activism paved the way for the generations to come.
Today’s campus conformists are in danger of squandering this legacy. How can students learn, think, and grow without exposure to unexpected, challenging ideas? How can any campus fulfill its mission of preparing tough-minded and capable students if it instills in them a desire to squelch opposing views rather than a willingness to consider and confront them?
Perhaps some unwise ideas will be presented with which students will vociferously disagree, but this debate will strengthen campus discourse and help students become independent thinkers. In the end, students—and society—can only benefit from embracing intellectual humility and the free marketplace of ideas.