A budding coalition of professors has formed in an effort to protect free speech and foster a broader range of ideas and perspectives on the nation’s college campuses.
The group, which calls itself “Heterodox Academy,” states on its website, “We are a politically diverse group of social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, and other scholars who want to improve our academic disciplines and universities. We share a concern about a growing problem: the loss or lack of ‘viewpoint diversity.’ When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged. To reverse this process, we have come together to advocate for a more intellectually diverse and heterodox academy.”
One of the group’s first projects is to evaluate universities on their openness to diverse views. In October, Heterodox Academy graded the acceptance of viewpoint diversity in every school in the leading 150 national universities, as ranked by U.S. News and World Report. The five most intellectually diverse schools were the University of Chicago, which has created and endorsed a set of free-speech principles, the College of William & Mary, Carnegie Mellon, George Mason, and Princeton.
The ratings incorporate rankings created by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which are based on the universities’ commitment to free speech, and rankings by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which lists campuses friendly to conservative and libertarian students.
The ratings also consider campus events, such as dis-invitations of controversial speakers (a negative) and the adoption of free-speech principles (a positive).
Heterodox Academy reported plans to expand its listings in December 2016 by evaluating schools on the presence of “bias response teams,” on-campus groups that collect reports of speech or conduct considered offensive. The group also wants to encourage student groups to make their schools “Heterodox Universities” by committing to acceptance of diverse perspectives.
Heterodox Academy debuted in 2015 with the publication of an article in The Atlantic, “The Coddling of the American Mind.” Authors Greg Lukianoff, president of FIRE, and Jonathan Haidt, professor of social psychology at New York University and a founder of Heterodox Academy, wrote college campuses are infected with “vindictive protectiveness, [that is] creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.”
In February 2016, when the group had just 27 members, an internal poll found Heterodox Academy members tended to be socially liberal and economically conservative and voted at similar rates for Democrats and Republicans.
The group now has 240 members, all of whom have signed a statement declaring, “I believe that 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.”
‘All Students Will Benefit’
Neal McCluskey, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, says the organization’s efforts could improve higher education.
“As a libertarian, I’m glad to see this group, because all students will benefit if libertarian ideas are a part of their education,” McCluskey said. “The timing may also be ideal, with the electorate seemingly voting for [Donald] Trump in part as a reaction against rampant political correctness. As long as they stick with persuasion—not pleas for laws to impose ‘balance’ or other government coercion—I’m all for them, and I think they’ll have a positive impact.”
‘Ideological and Philosophical Uniformity’
George Leef, research director at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, says the group calls attention to a problem college campuses are often afraid to address.
“Heterodox Academy reminds me of that adage that you can’t begin to solve a problem until you admit you have one,” Leef said. “What Heterodox Academy shows is that there are some professors who dare to admit—and this is what lawyers could call an admission against interest—that our universities are suffering from too much ideological and philosophical uniformity.”
Jane S. Shaw ([email protected]) writes from Raleigh, North Carolina.
“The Heterodox Academy Guide to Colleges,” Heterodox Academy, October 19, 2016: http://heterodoxacademy.org/resources/guide-to-colleges/