- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2016

After an academic year marked by the normalization of the phrase “safe space,” a group of higher education reformers has a recommendation for schools looking to avoid another “annus horribilis”: Hire more conservative professors.

Heterodox Academy, an advocacy group of scholars of all political persuasions, wants to give the hallowed halls of America’s colleges and universities a fresh coating of intellectual diversity.

Although the university has always leaned to the left, Heterodox Academy says progressive orthodoxy has taken on a religious significance to the point where disagreement on contentious issues is akin to blasphemy. As headlines chronicling ubiquitous protests and censorship on campus indicate, in the “Orthodox Academy,” dissenters are punished.

One of the leading culprits, according to Georgetown University law professor Nicholas Rosenkranz, a founding member of Heterodox Academy, is an intellectually homogeneous faculty.

Mr. Rosenkranz said students do not necessarily arrive on campus with a visceral opposition to new ideas. Rather, they are inculcated into ideological conformity, unable to tolerate conservative speakers who come to campus because they have never been exposed to conservative professors in the classroom.

“In a way, it’s unsurprising that some liberal students don’t quite know how to react to views that they don’t agree with, because they are presented with such views so infrequently,” Mr. Rosenkranz said. “The vast majority of the Georgetown Law student body will graduate after three years without ever laying eyes on a conservative behind a podium.”

He said the difficulty in diversifying faculties lies in the hiring process, in which overwhelmingly progressive departments decide who gets hired, promoted and tenured.

Studies have underscored the role ideological bias plays in determining departmental hiring.

George Yancey, a sociologist at the University of North Texas, found that 30 percent of professors would be less likely to hire Republican candidates.

The discrimination faced by Christian job seekers is even more dramatic, with majorities in English and anthropology departments acknowledging a bias against evangelical candidates.

Peter Wood, who has been fighting to reform the university in his capacity as president of the National Association of Scholars, said increasing intellectual diversity has long been a goal of higher education critics, but “nobody yet has found a way to break that logjam.”

“Most faculty positions are filled by search committees that are made up of the current faculty members and the departments for which the search is going on, and those search committees have a very strong tendency to replicate themselves,” Mr. Wood said. “They seek people who are of like mind, and the search for ideological diversity stops there.”

“It’s a very tough nut to crack,” Mr. Rosenkranz concurred, adding that, absent a more specific solution, the best way to reform the university is simply to “make noise about it.”

“The American people know that universities ‘lean’ to the left, but they have no idea how extreme the imbalance is,” he said. “Even folks who follow this issue fairly closely are often surprised when I tell them that on the Georgetown Law faculty, for example, our liberal-conservative ratio is 123-to-2. People are pretty surprised by that ratio, so I try to publicize that as often as I can.”

If success is measured by attention, Heterodox Academy may be making inroads.

Co-founded and championed by New York University social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, Heterodox Academy has won support even in liberal corners.

The group mirrors its creator by viewing the problems faced by the university through a scientific, almost medical lens. For instance, articles promoted on the group’s website link to studies demonstrating the healthy psychological boost received by students exposed to more than one viewpoint, or the scholarly advantages enjoyed by researchers in intellectually diverse departments.

One representative article, co-authored by Mr. Haidt and published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, is titled “Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Science.”

The appeal to science has enchanted some liberals, who cannot dismiss peer-reviewed studies as easily as a conservative claim to free speech.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a self-flagellating op-ed for Sunday’s editions titled “A Confession of Liberal Intolerance,” citing the work by Heterodox Academy and remonstrating liberals for their double standard when it comes to diversity.

“We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us,” Mr. Kristof wrote.

“Universities should be a hubbub of the full range of political perspectives from A to Z, not just from V to Z,” he wrote. “So maybe we progressives could take a brief break from attacking the other side and more broadly incorporate values that we supposedly cherish — like diversity — in our own dominions.”

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