Sunday, August 14, 2005

Selective definitions of “diversity” can exclude some of its vital meanings. On college campuses, for obvious example, the goal of “diversity” has most urgently been focused on racial diversity. But at last, leaders of the higher-education establishment — headed by the American Council on Education — have finally recognized the fundamental basis for all education is diversity of ideas.

The present domination by liberal opinion on many college faculties (often verging on this majority’s intolerant orthodoxies) was revealed in a recent study, “Politics and Professional Advancement among Faculty,” by Stanley Rothman, emeritus professor of government at Smith College; S. Robert Lichter, a professor of communications at George Mason University; and Neil Nevitte, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.

As summarized in the June 24-26 New York Sun, the result of this study, confirmed in previous reports in the widely respected, nonpartisan weekly, the Chronicle of Higher Education, reveals that campus liberal professors “outnumber conservatives 5-to-1. It also concludes that conservatives get worse jobs than liberals.”

In some of these classrooms, conservative students are intimidated into silence, ignored or occasionally ridiculed. Accordingly, although belatedly, the June 23 “Statement of Academic Rights and Responsibilities,” led by the American Council on Education, may finally awaken college trustees and alumni to the degree of indoctrination instead of free inquiry that characterizes much of higher education, particularly in the more elite institutions.

As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis advised, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” and this study, among other similar surveys, may stir parents to look more closely at how free the exchange of ideas actually is among faculty members, and thereby among students, at various colleges.

The release of this statement on behalf of true academic freedom is clearly a recognition, though not explicitly admitted, in the statement of the decline of intellectual diversity in higher education.Otherwise,it wouldn’t be necessary for the statement to emphasize that: “Colleges and universities should welcome intellectual pluralism and the free exchange of ideas. Such a commitment will inevitably encourage debate over complex and difficult issues about which individuals will disagree. Such discussions should be held in an environment characterized by openness, tolerance and civility.” If “openness, tolerance and civility” were not in short supply on too many campuses, that admonition would not have been required. Nor would this remarkable reminder from American Council on Education to faculty, provosts and presidents of colleges: “Academic decisions, including grades, should be based solely on considerations that are intellectually relevant to the subject matter under consideration. Neither students nor faculty should be disadvantaged or evaluated on the basis of their political opinions. Any member of the campus community who believes he or she has been treated unfairly on academic matters must have access to a clear institutional process by which his or her grievance can be addressed.”

It’s about time. Included in the impressive list of signers to this manifesto for freedom of thought in the nation’s citadels of advanced learning (largely ignored by newspapers and television) are, in addition to the American Council of Education, the American Association of University Professors, the Association of American Law Schools, the Association for Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the Council of Independent Colleges.

So, what can and should be done to open the minds of faculties and students? I would think the clear answer is that college and university presidents and boards of trustees have to look deeply into how welcome their own campuses are to “intellectual pluralism and the free exchange of ideas.” The statement by the higher-education establishments is just words without accountability. Also, by doing more investigative reporting on freedom of thought on campuses, the media can also be of significant help to future students, faculty and the nation as a whole. We are engaged not only in a war against terrorism, but also in a war of ideas between those committed to freedom and advocates of its lethal opposite.

The prevalence of “political correctness” at many colleges and universities is far from over, but at least a beginning has been made to make freedom of thought part of the curriculum.

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