Corey Lee Wilson
The Heterodox Academy is a Champion of Viewpoint Diversity
Dr. Jonathan Haidt and two others founded Heterodox Academy in 2015 just before a wave of student protests at Yale and other schools increased pressures toward political orthodoxy. Heterodox Academy (HxA) describes itself as “a politically diverse group of social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, and other scholars” concerned about “the loss or lack of ‘viewpoint diversity’” on campuses. As Haidt puts it: “When a system loses all its diversity, weird things begin to happen.”
As Dr. Haidt explains in the rest of this article, in order to address society’s most intractable problems, learners must weave together the best ideas from a range of perspectives, often times, called the marketplace of ideas.
In many fields, scholars’ backgrounds and commitments are insufficiently diverse. As a result, important questions and ideas may go unexplored, key assumptions can go unchallenged, and the natural human tendencies towards motivated reasoning, confirmation bias, and tribalism can go unchecked. This undermines research quality and the impartiality of peer review; it can also corrupt committee decisions about admissions, hiring, promotion, and curriculum design.
Simultaneously, institutional policies, procedures and incentive models of colleges and universities are changing. The needs, priorities, and expectations among new cohorts of students are evolving—even as the political climate in the United States (and beyond) has grown increasingly polarized and toxic.
The result is a highly-combustible campus environment. Professors and students alike describe the toll self-censoring and the ever-present threat of social or bureaucratic censure have taken on learning, discovery, and growth.
These problems have not gone unnoticed by lawmakers, the media, or the general public. Many fields and institutions where these trends are most pronounced have faced declining enrollments and budget cuts. Meanwhile, trust in universities, expertise, and scientific research has eroded—reducing the impact and continued viability of many lines of inquiry.
What It Does and Why the Heterodox Academy is Necessary
As a collaborative of academic insiders, the Heterodox Academy, led by CEO Debra Mashek, is deeply committed to the continued flourishing of colleges and universities—and deeply concerned about the current state of affairs, which is not sustainable. They aspire to help chart a different path forward by:
• Increasing public awareness of these issues, to spur action among faculty, staff, students, alumni, and donors.
• Conducting, disseminating, and facilitating research to better understand the nature of the challenges facing institutions of higher learning—and how they can be effectively addressed.
• Developing tools and resources that professors, administrators, and others can deploy to assess and then improve their own pedagogical, disciplinary, and broader campus cultures.
• Cultivating communities of practice among teachers, researchers, and administrators to help accelerate the process of reform.
• Identifying and celebrating institutions that make progress on these matters.
Dr. Haidt (like the SAPIENT Being) is a non-partisan centrist, and genuinely concerned about the loss of viewpoint diversity in the academy. He believes the problem is amplified by the rising political polarization of the United States more generally. Dr. Haidt teamed up with two dozen professors in psychology and other disciplines (most of whom are not conservative) to make the case, consistently and forcefully, that the academy must increase viewpoint diversity in order to function effectively.