Diversity of ideas is what really counts

Diversity on campus is low and decreasing. We are doing a better job of mixing and matching colors, but a worse job of encouraging diversity that is more than skin deep. A recent study has brought some statistical proof to something anyone who has recently been on a college campus knows.

- the establishment is overwhelmingly liberal. A one party state on campus is a bad idea from several points of view even beyond obvious concerns of diversity and fairness.

Universities are in danger of losing their central role in framing debates and coming up with solutions to problems. This has happened to a greater extent than we notice. If you read about the creation of the post-World-War II world, you clearly see the imprint of scholars from the major universities. Government officials would seek advice from academics and try out their ideas on university audiences. That was then. It still happens today, of course, but both Republican and Democratic administrations looking for policy guidance turn much more often to think tanks, consulting firms and independent scholars than to traditional universities. In fact, places like Heritage Foundation or Cato were created to a large extent BECAUSE conservative thought was received so unsympathetically at mainstream universities.

Another danger is groupthink. Ever since the last election, I have been trying to figure out why Democrats were so surprised that Bush won. One explanation is groupthink. People tend to believe that the people around them are roughly representative of the general society. This assumption is always wrong, but it is difficult to overcome. Among female professors at Berkeley, for example, there were 172 Democrats versus a 7 Republicans. No wonder these women couldn't understand how Bush could win. Probably nobody they knew voted for him. Groupthink is the death of inquiry.

Finally, universities are losing talent. Smart liberal kids still sometimes go into academia. Smart conservative kids go into business. Before my liberal colleagues write in that they are just greedy, reflect that academia is unfriendly to conservative ideas, and ideas are what academia is all about. Conservative idea are not always considered wrong; they are just not considered. Young conservative who don't want to fight the ideological battle every day just move on to more friendly environments. Last year I spent a sabbatical at a major university. Like about 80% of Americans, I admire Ronald Reagan. Whenever we would talk about modern politics, I would praise the great communicator and his role in bringing the Cold War to a favorable conclusion. The reaction was polite, but very puzzled. "He seemed smart and well adjusted, yet he likes Ronald Reagan," was the general attitude. Imagine when such a person comes up for tenure. The discrimination may be unconscious, but it will be there and we all know it.

What can we do about it? In the short run, probably nothing. We have to remember that the most important kind of diversity is the diversity of idea. The liberals on campus are ideological, but most are smart and many are fair minded. When the problem is exposed, I hope they will see it in their interest to take remedial action.

Posted by Jack at January 10, 2005 12:11 PM