Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ideological Diversity in Higher Ed

Interviewer: What you've got is college experience. Not the practical, hard-nosed business experience we're looking for. If you'd joined our training program out of high school, you'd be qualified for this job by now.
Brantley Foster: Then why did I go to college?
Interviewer: You had fun, didn't you?
--The Secret of My Success

My niece is among many contemporary high school juniors preoccupied with looking at colleges. One factor on her want list is a diverse student body.

I hope that she also considers the ideological diversity of the institution itself.

It can be argued that a primary benefit of a college education is to learn how to think critically. Critical thinking requires exposing the mind to various points of view. Thought processes must also be developed for sifting through those various perspectives to get closer to the truth.

On the surface, universities would seem to offer an effective platform for advancing critical thought. A student body drawn from various backgrounds helps attendees learn from each other in this regard. However, it can be argued that a more important factor is the capacity of the primary engines of the instructional platform--i.e., that of the faculty and others who convey knowledge in classrooms and other learning forums--for stimulating students to expand their minds and probe issues in search of truth.

Unfortunately, this part of the higher ed learning platform has been deteriorating to the point where potential for developing critical thought process has been severely diminished and, in some institutional environments, completely eliminated. A primary cause of this breakdown has been increasingly homogeneous ideology among faculty and administrators, particularly as related to politics and its spillover into economic and social issues.

It has been known for some time that the academy is skewed politically left. One consequence of the lack of political diversity in higher ed is that it has biased hiring of instructors. In some disciplines, preference for hiring faculty with like-minded, left-leaning ideologies is so strong that capability for honestly offering alternative views in the classroom is virtually non-existent.

Another consequence of the left skew in higher ed is that has fostered cultures of intolerance on campus. Speakers who offer competing perspectives are seen as threats and chased off campus by protesting faculty and students. Those incapable of coping with heterogeneous viewpoints are granted 'safe spaces' and language controls from 'microaggressions' committed by individuals perceived as posing ideological threats.

Several prominent academics have recognized the problems that lack of ideological diversity pose for higher ed. For example, a former Stanford provost discusses 'the threat from within' presented by ideological sameness and its consequential intolerance. The president of the University of Chicago has been outspoken about how and why his institution seeks to avoid policies that stifle diversity and freedom of thought.

Rising tuitions and and cheap credit (which are not unrelated) have increased the supply of college grads and made pursuing a college degree a riskier proposition now than in the past. All the more reason why inbound students should carefully assess the ideological diversity of prospective institutions. Attending a school rich in ideological perspectives increases the likelihood of securing the critical thinking skills commensurate with a valuable college degree.

I hope my niece does so.


katie ford hall said...

I hope she does too.

You'll find plenty of left of center folks (I'll argue that there is no such thing as 'the left') who speak out against the censoring of speech and condemn the demonstrations and violence that drive intolerance.

That said, there is no shortage of attention seekers who book dates on liberal college campuses in order to stir up trouble and end up on the news.

And, of course, the students' rights to have their voices heard matters too. Violence is inexcusable.

Also, I think there is something missing here about institutional ideologies. For quite some time now, the GOP has had a strategy of appealing to the common man and has had open disdain for 'intellectuals.' So their rhetoric and policies aren't exactly welcoming to the academic types.

People I know who have dropped their affiliation with the GOP feel as if the party has left them. An intellectual right wing is sorely missing right now. David Brooks is one of my favorite columnists even though I often disagree with him. But he's vocally chastised as a 'RINO.' So some of the blame lies with the choices the GOP has made too.

fordmw said...

Why academia skews left certainly merits discussion. But beyond scope of current missive. Good topic for future post...