Education, News, Top Stories

Can Heterodoxy Save the Academy?

“When we decided to do a conference, we weren’t sure if we would get 25 people in the audience—and here we filled the Times Center,” says Debra Mashek, executive director of Heterodox Academy during an interview in midtown Manhattan. “There is broad consensus there is a problem on campus in terms of open inquiry and viewpoint diversity.”

It’s understandable why Mashek was uncertain about attendance. Academic conferences usually are organized around particular areas of study or well-defined ideological viewpoints. But by its very nature, Heterodox Academy doesn’t provide any such organizing principle. Begun in 2015 as a blog, and now a network comprising over 1,800 academics, HA asks members to endorse the proposition that universities and colleges must uphold and protect political and ideological diversity.

But the times we inhabit make championing viewpoint diversity an urgent project. And last Friday’s one-day inaugural conference near Times Square attracted a full house of about 350 academics, university administrators, students, and journalists. The event featured speeches and panel discussions from speakers who addressed the crowd from all points of the political spectrum. 

“In 2015, people thought this new morality of fragility and vindictiveness was unique to American college campuses,” HA co-founder and New York University School of Business professor Jonathan Haidt tells me. “But in 2016, it was clear it was spreading to British and Canadian campuses.” Today, he adds, the phenomenon seems to have spread well beyond the academy, into the worlds of technology, entertainment, and journalism.

The conference featured a number of well-known academic mavericks—including some who fell victim to the worst excesses of campus radicalism (and, some would add, administrative cowardice) in recent years. This included Allison Stanger, a political scientist at Middlebury College who suffered a neck injury last year when a protesting mob physically confronted her and American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray in connection with a campus speaking event. Also present was Alice Dreger, a sex researcher and former professor at Northwestern University’s medical school who resigned in 2015 after her dean censored an essay she approved for publication in the bioethics journal Atrium.

From left to right: Kmele Foster, Shadi Hamid, Alice Dreger, Angus Johnston, John McWhorter and Jason Stanley. Photo: Andy Ngo

Many audience members already seemed aware, to some extent, of the details of these underlying stories. Instead of dwelling on their hardships, speakers were encouraged by moderators to tease out larger lessons consistent with panel themes. Dreger, for instance, appeared on a panel where she jousted with Angus Johnston of the City University of New York, and Jason Stanley of Yale—two leftist professors who expressed skepticism that the viewpoint diversity problem on campuses is nearly as bad as other panelists suggested.

During a panel dedicated to answering how a lack of ideological diversity could harm higher education, Heather Heying, a former biology professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., detailed how she and husband Bret Weinstein were left physically at risk by an administration that allowed the campus to descend into chaos in order to appease activists. Last spring, some Evergreen students even roamed campus with bats while police were given a “stand down” order following a spate of disruptive social justice protests. “Most people still inside [the academy], even if they’re seeing this, think little steps can fix it,” Heying tells me after her panel concluded. “They’re missing the statistical truth that you don’t need to be in the majority to have a wildly dysfunctional effect, especially when you combine that with strategy and tactics—which they have.”

Heather Heying was a biology professor at the Evergreen State College who resigned following violent student protests in 2017. Photo: Andy Ngo

Some academics admitted frankly that even appearing at the conference could have negative professional repercussions. “I’m untenured so it’s a little bit risky to speak freely,” Lucía Martínez Valdivia said onstage during her panel with Heying.

Martínez Valdivia is an assistant professor of English and humanities at Reed College in Portland, Ore. Following a somewhat familiar pattern, the university’s freshman humanities course, which featured classic literature sources from the ancient Mediterranean and Middle East, was attacked as a vestige of white supremacy and racism. Students disrupted course lectures throughout the 2016–17 academic year and intimidated faculty while, by Martínez Valdivia’s account, the “administration did nothing.”

“I think there’s a lot of white guilt,” is how she describes her corner of the United States when I caught up with her. “It enables some behaviors that wouldn’t fly in other places. There is something specific to the Pacific Northwest.”

One of the few non-American speakers was Canadian graduate student Lindsay Shepard, who, in 2017, recorded and exposed how professors and an administrator at Wilfrid Laurier University bullied and intimidated her after they discovered that she had shown her class a public television debate featuring Jordan Peterson. At an HA dinner the night before, Shepherd was presented with an “outstanding student award” for her courage during the scandal.

Wilfrid Laurier graduate student Lindsay Shepherd received Heterodox Academy’s ‘outstanding student award.’ Photo: Andy Ngo

With many of the high profile cases of campus extremism targeting female victims, Shepard wonders if her gender played a role in how she was treated. “Perhaps the radicals play on the fact that women are often more empathetic, so they try to get them to feel bad so they’ll desist,” Shepard tells me. (If that was the plan, it didn’t work: Earlier this month, her lawyer announced a lawsuit against the university over the way she had been treated).

Other speakers included more strait-laced figures, such as University of Chicago president Robert Zimmer, who was interviewed onstage by New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss. His university was given the “institutional excellence” award for its crafting of the so-called “Chicago Principles,” which commits the university to free intellectual inquiry. Other institutions have since adopted similar statements. Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, spoke more broadly about the attitude to speech on campuses across the country, a topic related to a book he is co-authoring with Haidt.

New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss interviews University of Chicago president Robert Zimmer. Photo: Andy Ngo

While many speakers highlighted the problems of campus outrage culture and the need for civil discourse, not all of them agreed there was a crisis. “I think civility is overrated,” Angus Johnston, a historian of American student activism tells me. “We need to have spaces where our conversations with each other can be disruptive.”

Johnston points to the history of student and civil rights activists who used disruption to create change. He also defends the protesters at Reed College. “It’s not a riot and it’s not burning something down or physical altercation.” When asked about Evergreen State—which did become physical—Johnston says the complexity of the situation makes it difficult to condemn as a singular act of violence.

John McWhorter, associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, says the conversations aren’t happening, whether they are civil or not. “The issue is not whether or not we can have a spirited debate,” he tells me, “it’s whether or not certain views are allowed on campus at all.”

While the conference gave time for speakers to highlight how they’ve been affected by campus outrage culture or administrative malpractice, much more time was spent discussing what could be done to foster change.

Haidt’s prescription is simple. “The administrators have to set norms before students arrive,” he says. “Protest is fine, shutting down others is not.”  

Correction: June 22, 2018
An earlier version of this article misidentified Jason Stanley as John Stanley.

 

Andy Ngo is a graduate student in political science at Portland State University. Follow him on Twitter @MrAndyNgo

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48 Comments

  1. OleK says

    Andy, thank you for your valuable reporting on this and other articles.

  2. D.J. says

    Thanks for the write up. Hopefully it was recorded too so people can see the discussions.

  3. Dan Meisels says

    Betteridge’s law of headlines: Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.

    QUILLETTE WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!?!?!?!?!

  4. Andrew Eden-Balfour says

    Not to point out the obvious, but Lindsey Shepherd should not have received the award, as she is an extremely bad example of this.

    As the media never bothered to point this out, to quote Aadhia Chaudhuy, Shepherd is a teaching assistant for a class not on “critical thinking”, but one that is intended to help students with basic writing skills including grammar, punctuation, essay formatting, and annotated bibliographies. the problem was not about the fact that the Peterson video was shown, but how Shepherd essentially created a forum whereby her students could debate whether or not it should be acceptable to use alternative pronouns when addressing trans and non binary people. Such a debate, is not part of the basic curriculum of a class that is fundamentally a class on writing skills. Moreover, as one of her students has noted, “Lindsay Shepherd showed the video of Jordan Peterson during a grammar lesson in our class. This video had absolutely nothing to do with what we were learning that day and it felt as if she showed the video to purposely start a discussion about something she had opinions on. The video was showed and she asked the class for some of their thoughts. Some of the comments made for an interesting discussion, but mostly students used it as an excuse to make fun of trans identities.” So not only did Shepherd deviate from her responsibilities as a teaching assistant, but also gave platforms to her students to make bigoted comments about trans identities, all in “the spirit of debate”. Once she received a gentle slap on the wrist, simply being asked to have her lesson plans reviewed beforehand, Shepherd literally cried wolf and claimed her academic freedom was being suppressed, while in a role that was not about her academic expression to begin with.

    https://medium.com/@thylacinereport/the-wlu-lindsay-shepherd-controversy-was-never-about-free-speech-9fe3442da3c3

    Seriously, all this talk about free speech and ideological diversity is coming off as blatant gaslighting.

    • Mr. Eden-Balfour,

      I’d say developing good writing skills also includes developing critical thinking skills. At least it did when I learned writing skills.

      • MCA says

        Michael D. Setty – I hate to say it, but that’s more advanced than the “areas of need” in such classes. I don’t disagree that it’s a vital skill, but I’ll settle for “students can string together words into coherent sentences which do not omit major components like verbs”, based on some of the lab reports I’ve graded.

      • Andrew Eden-Balfour says

        Critical Thinking is part of Philosophy (at least at the University of Regina where I study), Mr. Setty. The class that Shepherd was teaching in when the controversy happened was Canadian Communications in Context, which is part of the Communication Studies Curriculum.

    • David says

      Since the course that Shepherd was teaching was called “Canadian Communication in Context”, and as the class was addressing grammar and pronouns, I think the videos and ensuing discussion were in context.

      And it would seem the university agreed when they stated that there had been “no wrongdoing on the part of Ms. Shepherd in showing the clip from TVO in her tutorial”.

      I guess we will have to wait and see the outcome of the litigation to find out who is right.

      By the way, it is probably worth pointing out that when there is mention of her students, keep in mind that these are people adults, not children.

    • ThereAreDozensOfUs says

      “So not only did Shepherd deviate from her responsibilities as a teaching assistant, but also gave platforms to her students to make bigoted comments about trans identities, all in “the spirit of debate””

      I have a huge problem with a sentence like that – it implies Lindsay Shepherd egged her students on into making anti-trans jokes/comments, which was very obviously not the case.

    • Gary Edwards says

      Her overly optimistic view of what higher education entails, at the induction level when high-schools have failed to do their job, did not justify the inquisitorial grilling she got. The airing of views that some may, in their heightened subjectivism and ideological ferver, label as “bigoted” is justified by “the spirit of debate”. To deny this is to be oblivious as to what we are about and to the value of what we do.

    • Elwood says

      1. No student complained. The assertion that one did was later revealed to be a lie.
      2. Shepherd stated from the beginning that she disagreed with Peterson. So the quoted student’s understanding of her motives and position is based on faulty judgement and is therefore factually incorrect.
      3. Shepherd recorded a disciplinary interview with senior male faculty and a diversity officer who accused her of violating human rights by playing a clip from public television.Once you have evidence to support your claim it’s not crying wolf.
      4. Her lawsuit details further acts of contempt and intimidation against her by other members of Laurier’s faculty. Peterson read it out recently on youtube, it’s her lawyer’s document. Obviously you haven’t been following the story. David Haskill who is another prof at the school ended up resigning from the free speech panel the school convened. His reason was that it was run in a way that made it clear that it’s true aims did not reflect it’s initial stated purpose. Maybe she’ll lose in court, but the contempt she is being treated with matches your tone exactly. So the stale accusations of bigotry fail to convince a neutral observer.
      5. “Gas lighting” is often used by people who are accused of things which are true as a sad attempt to invalidate those truths without meaningful argument. Ironically it is doing the very thing you accuse others of.
      6. This entire article provides many other examples of curtailment of free speech—including threats of violence associated. if that’s not a problem for you, then you have no defence when your speech is curtailed using the same means.

    • Frankly, at this point Lindsay Shepherd could be the worst human being alive, and it wouldn’t matter because the story here is that she was bullied and reduced to tears by the very academics who were supposed to support and nurture her.

      You can’t defend what was done to her, so you slander her instead. Same thing you do with Jordan Peterson.

    • ga gamba says

      Grammar lessons for uni students. “These are pronouns. Most people learn about them in elementary school.”

      FFS.

    • Shenme Shihou says

      ” the problem was not about the fact that the Peterson video was shown”

      No, the problem was that Peterson was shown in a.neutral light. Showing Peterson wouldnt have been an issue if she would have went on a 20min lecture on how terrible a person he is. The admins whole issue was not that she deviated from the course material (she didn’t), it was that she showed Peterson without portrying him as an enemy (Like Hitler or Milo, according to their own words).

      The admins LIED about a student complaint, and then they later said she did nothing wrong. Yet, somehow, you and Aadhia Chaudhuy are just so convinced that Shepherd is still in the wrong.

      Its quite amazing.

      • Andrew Eden-Balfour says

        Probably because the fact that she broke protocol by, to paraphrase a student; showed the video of Jordan Peterson during a grammar lesson in their class. This video had nothing to do with what the students in that class were learning that day and it felt as if she showed the video to purposely start a discussion about something she had opinions on. The video was showed and she asked the class for some of their thoughts. Some of the comments made for an interesting discussion, but mostly students used it as an excuse to make fun of trans identities. The university only said she did nothing wrong because they didn’t want this controversy to destroy the reputation and turn into another “Free speech” debacle.

        Also, your argument is pretty much BS. Peterson being portrayed in a ‘neutral light’ had nothing to do with this, but its your belief and your free to believe that.

        • doug deeper says

          Andrew, do you also complain about the literally thousands of times a year leftist professors preach leftist propaganda using hateful rhetoric towards anyone with non-orthodox university views? Are you as harsh on them as you are on Lindsay Shepherd or is your criticism only aimed sharply at those you disagree with? If you are fair, please send some examples.

    • John McCormick says

      I remember my English Composition classes years ago, and we did indeed discuss provoking topics that involved race and ethnicity. That was in a community college setting on a military base in rural Oklahoma, but then, many do say here in the US that community colleges are vastly underrated.

      I think your comment and the article are an attempt at gaslighting, but I subscribe to Hanlon’s Razor: never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

      By the way, did Lindsay Shepherd really “literally cry wolf?” Good grief. 😀

    • OtherWay says

      How is a discussion about pronouns – not relevant to a class on writing and grammar?
      Face it – you hate Peterson and are searching for an excuse to never air what he says.

    • Did you hear the recording of Lindsay’s “slap on the wrist”? Did you read the results of the investigation that clearly stated – as did the president of Laurier – Lindsay did nothing wrong?

      ” … it felt as if she showed the video to purposely start a discussion about something she had opinions on.”

      It felt like, really? Do you know her opinions on the matter. Do you know she sided against JBP, but kept her mouth shut, so as not to influence the discussion?

      And you know what “literally” means, don’t you? I am sorry but your response here is ideological and frankly, idiotic.

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  6. Matt says

    I am seriously wondering if Lindsey Shepherd has a case of Asperger’s Syndrome. I am wondering this because of her interviews, and she seemed to have little grasp of the big picture before showing the Jordan Peterson clip. Did she not pay attention during her undergraduate classes? I’m guessing that she would have never made it out of graduate school with an actual degree because of her inability to navigate the PC minefield.

    ‘Haidt’s prescription is simple. “The administrators have to set norms before students arrive,” he says. “Protest is fine, shutting down others is not.”’

    Isn’t the real problem the administrators? And the problems are not going to get fixed until the government student loan con is terminated.

  7. Jack B. Nimble says

    This post is filled with anecdotes from Reed, Evergreen State, Wilfrid Laurier and a few other universities, rather than with actual data. So I will offer my own anecdote:

    At the public university where I used to teach, the governor has the power to make all appointments to the management board–no legislative consent needed. The former Republican governor, using a ‘pay-to-play’ model, filled the board with major contributors to his campaigns–all wealthy white men, needless to say.

    When this lack of diversity was pointed out, in a state that is over 30% non-white, the governor appointed to the board a two-fer: a black woman who had never attended college. Why isn’t this lack of ‘viewpoint diversity’ on a board that sets major policy for the university considered a problem?

    I know that Lukianoff, Haidt, et al. have chosen the alleged* lack of viewpoint diversity among US college students and faculty as the dragon that they are seeking to slay. But there are lots of other dragons out there that are greater threats to higher ed in the US–for example, ongoing attempts by members of Congress from fossil-fuel states to shut down research and education on climate change: http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/393421-gop-senators-call-for-probe-into-federal-grants-on-climate-change

    The latest controversy over NSF grants should remind us that, in the broader world, the Haidtian view mostly provides ammunition to Republican governors and legislators seeking to cut funding to higher ed. And the power to shut off or reduce funding dwarfs the influence that individual faculty members may possess.

    *I say alleged because in my 40 years of experience in higher ed in the US and abroad, I almost never saw instances of viewpoint discrimination either in faculty hiring or in graduate education. Remember, this post is about anecdotes, not actual data.

      • Jack B. Nimble says

        @Rick G. — Thanks for the helpful comment!

        I looked at the citations under ‘Ideological bias in academia’ in the HxA library, and there were 15 articles or books in social or evol. psychology, 1 in law and 4 in other disciplines [this is a rough breakdown]. Most of the articles appeared to deal with bias in psychology or sociology rather than with bias in STEM fields or the humanities. The same seems to be true of the other headings in the HxA Library.

        Shouldn’t this section be headed ‘ideological bias in social science’? My own background is in STEM, and as I noted above, I have rarely seen cases of viewpoint discrimination.

        I would really like to see a survey of political views of STEM faculty in the US, conducted by a non-partisan survey firm and cross-tabbed by department affiliation and type of institution [2-year, 4-year, etc.]. But even a multiple-choice survey is unlikely to capture the complexity of professors’ political views–after all, these are people accustomed to nuance and ambiguity.

    • Charles Murray’s book “Coming Apart” talks about the combination of geographic isolation (segregation by income/politics), elite schools (public and private) where their children all socialize, ideological conforming by the “elite” institutions all creating an elite population that has prime access to top corporate jobs, NGOs, government positions under Democrats. They base morality as adherence to the ideology and thus see all who disagree as evil/stupid and look down on those beneath them as at best unenlightened/uneducated and at worst people the world is better off without.

      Then they actively discriminate against conservatives and the middle and working class, seeing them as “not a culture fit” or actively deprecating them.

      https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/10/24/survey-finds-professors-already-liberal-have-moved-further-left

      If one side understands the other better, and by extension probably their arguments better too, and still holds their position…that speaks to the strength of their position.

      When faced with questions such as “One of the worst things a person could do is hurt a defenseless animal” or “Justice is the most important requirement for a society,” liberals assumed that conservatives would disagree.

      http://theindependentwhig.com/haidt-passages/haidt/conservatives-understand-liberals-better-than-liberals-understand-conservatives/

      Jonathan Haidt’s experiments ask liberals and conservatives to fill out questionnaires about their values, then to predict how someone from the opposite tribe would fill out the questionnaire. He finds that conservatives are able to predict liberals’ answers just fine and seem to have a pretty good understanding of their worldviews, but that liberals have *no idea* how conservatives think or what they value.

      http://www.aei.org/publication/liberals-or-conservatives-whos-really-close-minded/

      Since you asked for data, here is some:

      The more liberal someone is, the more likely they are to unjustly discriminate on the basis of politics. Source: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2002636

      Conservative psychologists face discrimination that liberals do not notice. Source: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2002636

      82% of psychologists are explicitly willing to discriminate against conservatives. Source: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=9945048

      The field of psychology is rife with progressive bias and intolerance of conservatives. Source: http://cdp.sagepub.com/content/23/1/27.abstract

      Liberals consistently underestimate the compassion of conservatives. Source: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0050092

      Liberals view themselves as more compassionate than they really are. Source: http://heterodoxacademy.org/2015/09/23/how-marcuse-made-todays-students-less-tolerant-than-their-parents/

      Young people who advocate for social justice are less tolerant than their peers. Source: http://heterodoxacademy.org/2015/09/23/how-marcuse-made-todays-students-less-tolerant-than-their-parents/

      Conservative and rural Whites are discriminated against in college admissions. Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/19/opinion/19douthat.html?_r=0

      Liberals value the lives of Black people and foreigners more than the lives of white people and Americans. Source: http://www.wired.com/2010/09/kill-whitey-its-the-right-thing-to-do/

      72% of American college faculty are liberal, while only 15% are conservative. Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A8427-2005Mar28.htmlAtelite

      American colleges, 87% of faculty identify as liberal. Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A8427-2005Mar28.html

      • gda says

        Thanks for the damning information.

        “..conservatives are able to predict liberals’ answers just fine and seem to have a pretty good understanding of their worldviews, but that liberals have *no idea* how conservatives think or what they value.”

        This fact is key to why “liberals” (although that word may be somewhat misused in this context) find it so easy to demonize conservatives. They literally cannot conceive of how conservatives think, and since they KNOW that they are right, it MUST be that conservatives are not just wrong, but evil.

        Once you are labelled as “evil” there is literally nothing you can do that can be construed as “good”, so there always must be an ulterior motive or fault to your action.

        The reaction to Donald Trump and his policies are the most compelling example of this dissonance.

        Perhaps the only practical solution is re-education camps for liberals, along with shock therapy and culling if the cure does not take.

        Of course that last sentence is not proposed as a “real” solution. Just as the threat by the left, led by Hollywood elites, to assassinate/decapitate/kill the President, rape/torture his wife, and lock his 11-yr old son in a cage to be raped by pedophiles, is not a “real” threat.

        It’s jut an extreme form of virtue signalling. Right?

        • R O says

          gda:
          You could make a better case if you used real conservatives’ mistreatment for examples. Trump is nothing but a clever opportunist as witness when he was buddy-buddy with the Clinton back before he decided populist politics could use his “unique talent” as a Master Persuader (per Scott Adams, “Dilbert” cartoonist. He has a fascinating number of blog posts on how Trump applied that skill, and still does).

          Still, you might have a point in that Trump came under all this fire once he started being portrayed as “conservative” by the media as he started taking over a Republican Party that had lost its conservative convictions, and started morphing it into more his own personal populist party. The leap to equating him with Hitler and Nazism (with Jewish son-in-law and daughter no less) is a big escalation that is starting to bolster your case more ;-}

      • Jack B. Nimble says

        “……..Then they actively discriminate against conservatives and the middle and working class, seeing them as “not a culture fit” or actively deprecating them…….”

        Like the HxA library, your list of references skews heavily toward the social sciences and psychology in particular. None of the refs really addresses your claim of active discrimination against conservatives by academic “elites,” except possibly in Psych.

        In my experience, tenure-line STEM faculty at research universities [you know, the institutions with the highest proportions of liberals per the article by Jaschik in IHE] spend most of their time writing grant proposals and manuscripts (when not teaching or doing committee work), rather than thinking up ways to discriminate against conservatives.

        Other evidence against the suggestion that academics are a self-replicating elite includes the fact that many undergraduate and graduate students and even faculty at US research universities come from other countries, including those with very different cultures and political systems. In my own lab I hosted graduate or post-graduate scholars from India, China, Japan, Peru and Mexico. Other faculty members in my dept. pretty much ran their whole labs with foreign students, including one professor who gave his graduate seminars in Mandarin. The reason for so many foreign faculty in STEM depts. is mostly because they are real go-getters when it comes to research productivity and grant support. That’s the big hiring/firing criterion in STEM depts., not politics.

    • “At the public university where I used to teach, the governor has the power to make all appointments to the management board–no legislative consent needed. The former Republican governor, using a ‘pay-to-play’ model, filled the board with major contributors to his campaigns–all wealthy white men, needless to say.

      When this lack of diversity was pointed out, in a state that is over 30% non-white, the governor appointed to the board a two-fer: a black woman who had never attended college. Why isn’t this lack of ‘viewpoint diversity’ on a board that sets major policy for the university considered a problem?”

      The train of logic being used here is bizarre. From the 1st paragraph, it sounds like the board is lacking race and gender diversity (“all wealthy white men”). But the 2nd paragraph says that this is a “lack of ‘viewpoint diversity.'” Now, it’s conceivable – perhaps even likely – that major contributors to a former Republican governor all have similar viewpoints on key issues, but this isn’t evident from the description of the board as “all wealthy white men” with 1 “two-fer” black woman who had never attended college. Believing that a board’s race and gender make-up is determinant of its viewpoint make-up seems to indicate a race/gender essentialist view.

      Now, this anecdote DOES seem to be pointing out a very real problem: the idea that a public university board is unilaterally determined by the governor seems ripe for corruption and outcomes that wouldn’t serve the student population well.

      However, I’m not sure how well this intersects with Heterodox Academy’s mission, which is to increase viewpoint diversity on college campuses. This anecdote certainly presents what appears to be a problematic situation in public education in one state, but “viewpoint diversity” on college campuses isn’t really the problem here. Indeed, EVEN IF the board were packed with sycophants who could do nothing but repeat the talking points of the governor who appointed them, it wouldn’t follow that the students and professors ON the college campuses would lack viewpoint diversity. The board could certainly do great damage to the students and professors, but a lack of viewpoint diversity on the board doesn’t imply a lack of viewpoint diversity on the college campus, and it’s the latter problem that Heterodox Academy is concerned with.

      • Jack B. Nimble says

        @Ivlin — OK, I was using political contributions as an easy proxy for political viewpoint [see also PS below]. Can’t we just assume that political appointees who previously contributed to a conservative Republican governor’s campaigns ($300,000 total, as per public records–this includes $$ contributed by their businesses) agreed with the Gov’s agenda? Persons placing small ‘bets’ on both sides of the political aisle would presumably have been identified and excluded from further consideration.

        The board and upper administration of public universities represent the top of the academic pyramid, or food chain. Why ignore political diversity there? Maybe THAT story doesn’t fit with HxA’s preferred model of viewpoint discrimination.

        PS — I’m not a race/gender essentialist, but the board members in question are highly visible individuals whose political views are widely known. The two-fer board member, for example, was president of a foundation that advocated for privatization of education.

        • “OK, I was using political contributions as an easy proxy for political viewpoint [see also PS below]. Can’t we just assume that political appointees who previously contributed to a conservative Republican governor’s campaigns ($300,000 total, as per public records–this includes $$ contributed by their businesses) agreed with the Gov’s agenda? Persons placing small ‘bets’ on both sides of the political aisle would presumably have been identified and excluded from further consideration.”

          That presumption doesn’t seem reasonable, but certainly the heuristic that a donor to a governor’s campaigns (whether the governor is Republican or Democrat) is aligned with that governor’s beliefs seems reasonable. But then the detail of the board being primarily wealthy white men with one black woman is utterly irrelevant. Unless you’re a race/gender essentialist – which I believe you when you say you’re not – what matters here is the process by which the board was selected, NOT the gender/race make-up of the board.

          “The board and upper administration of public universities represent the top of the academic pyramid, or food chain. Why ignore political diversity there? Maybe THAT story doesn’t fit with HxA’s preferred model of viewpoint discrimination.”

          Is there any evidence that Heterodox Academy is ignoring political diversity there? Have you or anyone else brought it up to them either at the conference or through their normal communication channels, only to be rebuffed? I haven’t seen that. Their focus is, again, viewpoint diversity ON college campuses, and the fact that the board is at the “top of the academic pyramid, or food chain” doesn’t somehow make the board control the viewpoint diversity of the college students and professors. Students and professors are individuals with agency, and EVEN IF the board were all just clones of the governor who all thought the exact same thing and all voted the exact same way, it wouldn’t cause the student body or faculty to suddenly think the same way as them. Their effect on viewpoint diversity ON campus would be indirect, in setting hiring policy and acceptance criteria and the like, which certainly matter, but which are also very limited. So it seems quite reasonable that Heterodox Academy is placing their focus directly on their core mission, which is viewpoint diversity on college campuses, i.e. the diversity of viewpoints among the students and faculty. Rather that placing their focus on an indirect lever that has, at best, somewhat weak effects on viewpoint diversity on college campuses.

          That said, if you believe that you’ve identified a gap in their coverage for accomplishing their goal, perhaps you should reach out to them, so that they can accomplish their goal more efficiently and effectively.

  8. MCA says

    This is somewhat tangential, but since there seem to be a fair few folks knowledgable about Heterodox Academy commenting, I figured I’d ask it here:

    How does “protect political and ideological diversity” not provide a foot in the door for ideologies/viewpoints contrary to empirical fact and research? And is Heterodox Academy doing anything to prevent this?

    I’m a TT faculty in biology, and words like “ideological diversity” make us suspicious because it sounds suspiciously similar to “teach the controversy” and “teach both sides” and other purported “academic freedom” bills and movements which have really just been a cover for our old nemesis, the alpha and omega of crackpot ideas, creationism. Obviously, the Heterodox Academy was not designed for this purpose, but what’s to stop a canny creationist from using the group’s umbrella to start promoting their idiocy on campus?

    Even though I support the general mission of HA, the lack of qualifiers about “ideological diversity”, especially when certain widely-held ideologies blatantly contradict fact, is a deal-breaker for me. I don’t think we should expel students or profs in business or art for believing in creationism, but if there is any “viewpoint diversity” among biology majors on the validity of biological evolution via natural selection, there is something seriously and deeply wrong, just as if there were chemistry students who doubted the existence of atoms.

    I realize I’m harping on this, but literally 40% of the US believes in young-earth creationism, and there are large organizations with substantial budgets and clever policy advisers dedicated to promoting it. They’ve already seized on “academic freedom” in general as a way to get their silly views injected into classrooms (they’ve succeeded in public schools in Louisiana) and it would be delusional to believe they won’t see a similar push for legitimate academic freedom in universities as a source of cover.

    And yes, it’s always possible to debate them, and generally easy to win, but every minute spent on such debates is a minute taken away from teaching kids about things that actually matter.

    TL;DR – How can you prevent “protect political and ideological diversity” from being exploited by fringe theorists and crackpots to promote ideas clearly refuted by facts?

    • RDG says

      The answer is you cannot and nor should you wish to which is the point.
      Idiotic ideas are extremely easy to dismantle when they fully expose themselves.

      Currently leftist dogma dominates in academia in the UK (my home).
      Youngsters are growing up being told that collectivism (socialism) is good and capitalism is evil with little counter point.
      (I cannot list sources because I’m in a rush to get home to watch the World Cup but I did spend time some months ago ‘googling’ reports on political view points across academia (and media too frankly)).
      I’d be delighted if some balanced ‘basic research and empirical facts’ were presented because it would result in many indoctrinated students undergoing an epiphany.
      At the moment they have to finish university and start work before they hear the heresy of individualism.

      • MCA says

        RDG – Frankly, that’s a naive way to thinking about it, and, given your UK location, shows how little experience you’ve had with creationism specifically.

        First, it assumes good faith on the part of the fringe proponent, while in actually, creationists will *never* change their mind as the result of a debate, and even if conclusively and undeniably proven wrong on a point, will then repeat that same point without the slightest hesitation the next time they profess their views. For them, it’s all signaling, and you may as well be the teacher in Charlie Brown cartoons speaking in squiggles and trombone sounds.

        Second, you don’t consider the cost of dealing with this, in terms of missed class time, which can be substantial. First, such students rarely limit themselves to one statement or shut up even when conclusively disproved. Second, and most important, is the “Gish Gallop”. This ‘debate tactic’ (if we’re being generous) is named for the creationist who abuses it most, but they all use it. Essentially, in the space of 20 seconds, a creationist can spout so much nonsense that it takes a real scientist 20 minutes to refute it all, thereby either requiring the scientist to leave some of the statements unchallenged or waste orders of magnitude more time. It takes seconds to claim that “mutations don’t create new information”, but explaining why that’s wrong requires explaining chromosomes, meiosis, crossing over, linkage disequilibria, unequal crossing over, gene duplication, paralogs, gene families, and reduntant copies – enough information to fill an hour-long lecture if the audience is Intro Bio students who haven’ encountered these concepts before. Biology isn’t like physics or engineering where everything can be derived from a handful of equations; it requires the memorization of not only principles but also vast, vast amounts of facts.

        Finally, this assumes the debate is between equals or that the professor is the one with the facts, but creationists have been (with fortunately limited success) attempting to “go undercover” and pretend to accept evolution to get the degrees they need, then, once in a teaching position, preach their nonsense from a position of authority in the classroom. And the overly-broad application of “ideological diversity” would allow that person to keep their job, in spite of teaching overt and provable falsehoods.

        This isn’t a case of “I can tolerate everyone except the outgroup” (to use the SSC post title), but rather that I see a gaping hole through which fringe crackpots and religious zealots will rush in order to promote deliberately counterfactual views, with no intention of promoting debate nor susceptibility to rational counter-arguments.

        TL;DR – You’re erroneously assuming a good-faith rational debate rather than a signalling show, failing to account for the real time costs of disproving this nonsense, and not realizing there’s a powerful and well-funded anti-rationalist movement which will ruthlessly exploit any angle to promote a dogmatic religious agenda.

    • Shenme Shihou says

      “How can you prevent “protect political and ideological diversity” from being exploited by fringe theorists and crackpots to promote ideas clearly refuted by facts?”

      Clearly refuted by facts? Like Marxism?

    • John says

      MCA wrote: “I realize I’m harping on this, but literally 40% of the US believes in young-earth creationism, and there are large organizations with substantial budgets and clever policy advisers dedicated to promoting it. They’ve already seized on “academic freedom” in general as a way to get their silly views injected into classrooms (they’ve succeeded in public schools in Louisiana) and it would be delusional to believe they won’t see a similar push for legitimate academic freedom in universities as a source of cover.”

      If find your views baffling, as I was accused of being a conservative for defending evolution in a very left-wing graduate school (a University of California campus). Now, also consider that prior to graduate school, Christians had called me a radical or a liberal for defending evolution too.

      The left-wing faculty and students:

      1) Sought zero discussion of biology/evolution because it had been used decades ago to support sexism, racism, and eugenics. You see, if evolution is true then we may be stuck with enduring differences and non-equal outcomes -> pointless research programs, no funding, and a short trip to a pure social construction and postmodern ideology.

      2) Did not understand that the historical evolutionary history model has gaps (e.g., “missing links”) and has made gross errors (e.g., racial hierarchy theories), but that evolutionary principles are simple to demonstrate through genetic variation, genetic engineering, and selective breeding. Modern DNA testing is revolutionizing this domain, even as it validates other historical observations.

      I was a student after the Alan Sokal Affair (1996), where a college professor submitted a satirical paper to the Social Text journal making the argument that quantum gravity is a social construct. After publication he announced this to be a hoax, and caused a major uproar. He went on a speaking tour and had a *massive* turn-out among the faculty. Many expressed great discomfort in the dominance of postmodernism. I honestly see little value of postmodernism over creationism. Both are inherently religious or quasi-religious.

      Science is tool that involves many painful facts and permanent unknowns. It has some conservative-friendly truths, some liberal-friendly truths, and points to the need for caution and care in application. Science fails miserably when taken beyond its limitations or when seen as offering answers to every question. Postmodernism begins where science steps aside due to complexity and unknowns — it is therefore a religion.

      The intellectually lazy, ideological, and government-fed university staff in the social sciences and humanities have become the professional priests of our era. And they are often little different than the priests of the Catholic church in the middle ages. Dogmatic totalitarians who get paid for feeding nonsensical bile to naive youth.

    • MaxU says

      >>>How does “protect political and ideological diversity” not provide a foot in the door for ideologies/viewpoints contrary to empirical fact and research?<<<

      It's part of an effort to fight back against an entryist totalitarian socialist ideology which is totally antithetical to empirical fact and research (Political Correctness). Other ideologies which attempt to undermine the scientific method for whichever ulterior purpose can be dealt with as and when they arise.

    • “How can you prevent “protect political and ideological diversity” from being exploited by fringe theorists and crackpots to promote ideas clearly refuted by facts?”

      I think Haidt would say that when they say “political and ideological diversity,” he means the political & ideological beliefs of the people involved, but without touching on the actual rigor of the science and research being done.

      For instance, in the case of evolution, a Young Earth Creationist could certainly do evolutionary science research, but the research would be held up to the standards of any evolutionary science research, as checked by other researchers of evolutionary science (admittedly peer review has its issues, but the point of ideological/political diversity is that ideas would be checked by people of different ideological/political views, so research by a YEC in evolutionary science would be checked by other evolutionary scientists who don’t buy into YEC).

      So crackpot-promoted ideas “clearly refuted by facts” would still be checked against those facts and then refuted by them. And ideological/political viewpoint diversity would actually help in this, because having such diversity means that those crackpot-promoted ideas get checked against facts by people from all different perspectives, rather than by people who are gonna cherrypick just the facts that fit the crackpot’s ideology.

      Haidt thought that that last part was a big problem in his own field of social psychology, which was what drove him to start Heterodox Academy in the first place. For instance, the idea that gender is entirely a social construct with no roots in biology is taking hold as a legitimate “scientific” belief, thanks in part due to a homogeneity in the ideological beliefs of the researchers in the field, who are sympathetic to those arguments and thus don’t rigorously check those arguments against actual reality in a good-faith effort to disprove them.

      So to get back to your point, Heterodox Academy seems to be calling for diversity in viewpoints rather than diversity in research rigor. It’s not always easy to separate those 2 concepts, but their point seems to be that having more diversity in viewpoints will, on net, HELP research rigor rather than hurt it, because diversity in viewpoints helps crackpot ideas get checked more by people who disagree with those crackpots.

  9. Ken says

    I’ve been digging into Jonathan Haidt’s work lately, and I absolutely love him. Can’t wait for his new book.

  10. Nevin says

    Jason Stanley’s name is incorrectly reported in the article as “John Stanley at Yale.” (It’s correct in the photo caption.)

  11. Rick G. says

    Heterodox academy is pushing for an reasonable amount of ideological diversity, rather than pushing for every viewpoint allowed. Johnathan Haidt has said that fundamentalism on the left or right (or closed mindedness in general) should disqualify a person for entry to graduate programs. See this youtube interview starting at about the 30 minute mark: https://youtu.be/4IBegL_V6AA

    Heterodox Academy tends to focus more on the Social Science, Psychology, and Philosophy Departments rather than the Natural Sciences. They feel like there is more of a viewpoint diversity problem in those departments. These are the departments that generate ideas like ‘The scientific method is a product of the white male patriarchy and cannot be trusted.’

    • MCA says

      Thanks for the response and the link; it’s a very interesting conversation.

      I got a similar vibe about HA’s focus areas etc. from my poking around, but I guess I just have this fear that any ambiguity or imprecision could be exploited. Not having to specify everything to 10 decimal places obviously helps HA stay flexible etc., but to alter a quote from everyone’s favorite chaos theorist, ‘Fundamentalism, uh, uh, uh, finds a way.’. And I’d hate to see something as useful and genuinely needed as HA winding up having unfortunate knock-on effects.

      Drs. Peterson & Haidt even mention this issue briefly, and acknowledge the difficulty, but then move on (in all fairness, it’s not their main focus). Perhaps due to my bio background I see the holes creationists can exploit more easily, but I think it’s worth investing some thought in addressing and mitigating up-front, rather than waiting for something bad to happen.

      I don’t mean this to say that I dislike HA, just that it’s an issue which has not just given me pause, but prevented me from signing up, because I would be afraid not that my colleagues would think I was racist, but rather that I could be creationist / “intelligent design” / some other crackpot. And I suspect if HA wants to make big inroads in support from others in the Natural Sciences, there will have to be some sort of evolution on this front (appropriately enough).

      • MCA, the concern you express is one that a few of my friends and colleagues have also raised when I’ve recommended HxA to them. My own view is that
        1) Openness to ideas that strike us as crazy is part and parcel of an intellectual environment that’s genuinely free. It’s hard to say ‘let’s be open to all ideas – except for those ones, because they’re wrong.’
        2) Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t look at certain ideas and then provide arguments as to why we think they’re wrong. That’s basically what my high school biology teacher did with criticisms of Darwinism, and that convinced me that creationism was wrong much more powerfully than if he’d just dismissed creationists as loons.
        3) I think the objection ‘but HxA might let right-wing falsehoods into the academy’ actually exemplifies the academy’s current problem with political balance. There are lots of left-wing ideas that have been extensively demonstrated to be false (e.g. that there are no natural sex differences), but nobody seems concerned about letting them in. My guess is that more ideological diversity would mean more mainstream right- and left-wing ideas, plus some extreme R and L ideas on the margins (in a genuinely open environment, the extreme ideas would be more quickly shot down). At the moment public universities are dominated by far-left ideas of a certain type, with some moderate left-wing ideas struggling to be heard, and right-of-centre ideas virtually absent.

  12. Jack B. Nimble says

    @Rick G. — “…..Heterodox Academy tends to focus more on the Social Science, Psychology, and Philosophy Departments rather than the Natural Sciences. They feel like there is more of a viewpoint diversity problem in those departments…..”

    Yes!!! This is such a basic and important point, yet the discussion here and at HxA tends to be framed around viewpoint discrimination in ‘academia’ or ‘the academy,’ rather than in ‘a few departments contained within much larger universities or colleges. I’m agnostic about the viewpoint problems that may exist in Psych and Philosophy Depts., because I have no direct experience there and am willing to let the experts sort it out.

  13. X. Citoyen says

    Some here are concerned about how HA proposes to introduce more ideological diversity. I don’t blame them for being leery because such plans generally have a top-down quota system behind them, which, as we all ought to know, do more harm than good. My impression from the HAers, however, is that they’re less about introducing a positive legal scheme than about removing the de facto political test that has been used to weed out ideological non-conformists, principally, conservatives.

    In other words, HA is an appeal for a change in attitudes, a polite way of saying “let’s stop discriminating against conservatives because it’s bad for the academy in a whole lot of ways.”

  14. OtherWay says

    The administrators are the ones who are fully in favor of shutting down discussions they don’t approve of. They won’t change a single thing. If you are a “Diversity Administrator” and you can’t find or foment racism at your institution – you are out of job. If you are a Dean or Provost, you were likely appointed largely based on your affirmative action credentials (race or sex). Just like Sotomayor, you are going to defend the immorality that put you there. The few white men are the master virtue signalers who know how to lie and fawn to obtain power for themselves. They will be the very last to change their ways. Its is probably best to burn academia down an start fresh.

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