The Forum | Intellectual Diversity

Diversity Thwarted

April 27, 2016 by Michael B. Poliakoff

Intellectual diversity, that is. A new Pew Research Center study shows that those who have attended graduate school (i.e. the future professoriate) lean even farther to the left than those with only an undergraduate degree, though their outlook also veers the same direction. A sharp tilt in any direction calls for some scrutiny.  It is the glory of a free society that citizens freely choose their political associations. Our founders also hoped –and worked to ensure – that the nation would have an informed electorate, “the best security against crafty and dangerous encroachments on the public liberty,” to quote James Madison. For the academy, intellectual diversity is a prerequisite for academic quality: as noted in a recent Wall Street Journal column, “none of us can rely on our fellow partisans to identify flaws in our thinking.” Do students, undergraduate or graduate, really have the opportunity and freedom at our colleges and universities to explore diverging, competing ideas? That is less than certain, and the emerging political monoculture of graduates may be the consequence. Between 2008 and 2011, ACTA commissioned a series of undergraduate surveys at major public universities in Missouri, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, and Idaho, asking among other questions, whether students agreed with the statement, “On my campus, there are courses in which students feel they have to agree with the professor’s social or political views in order to get a good grade.” In Georgia, 48.5% of the respondents felt they had to toe the ideological line to succeed. In Missouri it was 51%. In Illinois it was 31.1%. In Minnesota 39.7%, and 35.7% in Idaho. Perhaps behind some of these student responses are student misperceptions, but it is surely an issue that should concern responsible educators. In 1915, the fledgling American Association of University Professors had admonished the professoriate that “indoctrinating [the student] with the teacher’s own opinions” is simply unprofessional conduct. It falls to higher education leadership, trustees above all, to apply remedies if educators are breaking that trust. 


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