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(Even) More on Intellectual Diversity

Rather than trying to append this to the smoking, charred remains of the last post that dealt with intellectual diversity, I thought I’d give this piece from Kenneth Anderson at The Volokh Conspiracy its own space.

Much has been made in the comments section of this blog about what the problem actually looks like and what can be done about it, and I think that Anderson does a reasonably good job of crystallizing a few of the major concerns regarding the lack of intellectual diversity in the academy.

He makes clear the results of a lack of intellectual diversity in the academy, and it’s not just that students run the risk of ending up in a classroom with biased instructors. Rather, courses that approach subject matter from a conservative or libertarian perspective simply are not taught. This is due in large part to the fact that many existing faculty are either uninterested or unable to teach such courses, with the outcome that classes in conservative political thought or historical interpretation, etc. have more or less disappeared from curricula. For support he cites Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, who writes:

To be sure, a political science department may feature a course on American political thought that includes a few papers from “The Federalist” and some chapters from Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America.”

But most students will hear next to nothing about the conservative tradition in American politics that stretches from John Adams to Theodore Roosevelt to William F. Buckley Jr. to Milton Friedman to Ronald Reagan. This tradition emphasizes moral and intellectual excellence, worries that democratic practices and egalitarian norms will threaten individual liberty, attends to the claims of religion and the role it can play in educating citizens for liberty, and provides both a vigorous defense of free-market capitalism and a powerful critique of capitalism’s relentless overturning of established ways. It also recognized early that communism represented an implacable enemy of freedom.


While ignoring conservatism, the political theory subfield regularly offers specialized courses in liberal theory and democratic theory; African-American political thought and feminist political theory; the social theory of Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber and the neo-Marxist Frankfurt school; and numerous versions of postmodern political theory.

Berkowitz argues that, far from actively seeking “conservative” scholars during faculty searches, departments should instead look for professors who, regardless of their political background, would be able to convincingly teach a courses about conservative interpretations of history, ideas, politics, etc. to complement the stable of scholars in virtually every humanities or social science department who are fluent in leftish ideas.

This approach would likely have the effect of attracting a more “diverse” group of applicants and nullifies the basis of the argument that only “liberal people apply to liberal schools” (or the even more absurd notion that conservatives are simply too thick to be academics) while at the same time avoiding any sort of political “litmus test” during the hiring process.

While approvingly quoting Berkowitz’s admonition against “affirmative action for conservatives,” Anderson also notes the stultifying results of the left-liberal coccoon in academia:

… within an academic institution, I find myself treated as “conservative” – either to recoil from in faint horror, with a certain advice to students, well, if you take him, you have to know what you’re getting, or with a certain faint institutional pride that we’re broad-minded enough to have someone like him, which is to say, there is nothing an academic institution cannot praise itself for if it tries hard enough. I’ve had conversations – earnest, well-intentioned – that amounted to saying, “We’re so glad you’re our token conservative.”

If a quality education that exposes students to a wide variety of ideas and perspectives is indeed the mission of this institution (and sometimes one wonders…), then it simply isn’t enough to retort “well, go take an economics class” whenever someone complains that conservative ideas are given short shrift in the academy. Students actually need to be able to expose themselves to a truly diverse set of ideas that are taught by people who’re interested in and qualified to teach them, regardless of their political background (I mean, can you imagine what a class at the UO campus on the ideas of Ronald Reagan or William F. Buckley might look like?).

As it stands, students are often presented with the illusion of choice and given the option of taking courses in any number of subjects, a large number of which approach the course material, whatever it may be, with much the same theoretical framework.

That’s not diversity, and telling conservative academics to get out of town and move to Texas doesn’t change that.

  1. Sakaki says:

    I’m very big on the whole “equal merit” idea. As in giving equal merit to both points of view, and teaching them equally.

    Professor Alex Dracobly was one of those professors. Pure history, as he called it.

  2. Betz says:

    This is a nice capstone to the smoking, charred remains of the last entry on political diversity, as it is a more constructive proposal to the problem.

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