First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
The Elusive Goal of Intellectual Diversity
It's hardly a surprise that most universities are committed to political correctness -- you can hardly get a job at an American university these days unless you can show you are "committed" to "diversity."
As a friend of mine on the faculty of a western university wrote not long ago, "higher education may have other litmus tests for ideological conformity, but the you-better-believe-in-diversity test is the only one that isn't hidden."
Ironically, the result of this absolute insistence on a commitment to diversity is ... a lack of diversity.
When the administration and faculty have all had to make the same affirmation in order to get their jobs, how likely is it that anyone will use their "academic freedom" to question a doctrine that they have already declared they believe in?
If there were a requirement that all administrators and faculty members at our universities show their commitment to the divinity of Jesus or their belief that the distinct life of every organism begins at the moment of conception (a scientifically obvious fact), no one would have any doubt that such a test would constitute an establishment of religion.
Such questions function as old-fashioned test oaths.
Since a belief in "diversity" is invariably construed to mean the very limited, politically correct definition of "diversity," chances are that most of the faculty and staff buy into the whole politically correct ideology. It's a test oath that constitutes an establishment of one particular religion at the expense of all others.
Here and there, however, students are beginning to rebel against the pious cant that they hear from their relentlessly establishment teachers.
For instance, at Utah State University, student officers voted for an "Academic Bill of Rights." The goal was to "support intellectual diversity" on campus, and it called for such things as:
"Faculty will not use their courses for the purpose of political, ideological, religious, or non-religious indoctrination."
"Selection of speakers, allocation of funds for speakers programs and other student activities will observe the principles of academic freedom and promote intellectual pluralism."
Compare this attitude with the recent controversy in a Greensboro institution of higher knowledge, where an outside group had its permission to use the facility revoked because they planned to present speakers who planned to speak about their own experience with overcoming homosexual desires. Note that nobody bothered to present evidence that these speakers were fakes or liars. Nor was the idea of simply answering their ideas even thought of. No, it was a politically incorrect doctrine -- heresy, if you will -- and there was simply no place for deviant thought on campus.
It's a sad state of affairs all around, especially because the remedy is not in a "bill of rights." Forbidding teachers to use their courses for "political, ideological, religious, or non-religious indoctrination" is an invitation to a nightmare of complaints and counter-complaints.
Admittedly, it's actually almost fair to promote the idea of subjecting politically correct professors to the kind of witch hunts that have hounded politically incorrect professors and speakers out of many campuses.
Still, I can't think of a way to be a good teacher without my personal beliefs at least being mentioned. Part of the value of a university education is that the classes are taught by intelligent humans, not by machines.
The disease that is killing university education right now is the punishment of unsanctioned opinions. Adding to the number of opinions for which you can be punished does not help make universities better.
Of course, those who are true believers in political correctness always wrap themselves in the mantle of academic freedom when their insistence on uniformity is questioned and insist that the only reason most professors believe in P.C. doctrines is because they're true.
A friend recently sent me a copy of an email distributed at his university. "Spirit Matters Week" was announced, promoting "panel discussions, dance exhibitions, special films, and artistic experiences" that will give the college community "a chance to engage religious and spiritual traditions."
(Of course, this is written in the special and instantly-recognizable language of political correctness -- with all of its patronizing "inclusiveness.")
Proudly, the college proclaims that since this "is a diverse campus, the topics of discussions and events will also be diverse."
But in the same announcement, the only discussion that dealt with traditional Christianity was a "lunch conversation with Chip Berlet, author of 'Right Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort.' Chip will discuss Right Wing Religion in America: Examining the Current Political Landscape."
That evening, "an interfaith panel of gay/lesbian religious leaders" would "discuss their perspectives on being gay/lesbian and practicing their religious faith."
Thus the slant on traditional religion would be how dangerous it is, and the speaker would not be a believer; the gay/lesbian view, however, would be presented sympathetically, by practitioners. So much for diversity.
But in fairness, it's quite possible that nobody involved in setting up the program actually knew anybody who believed in a traditional religion. If any such person worked on campus, they would have kept their faith hidden, for obvious reasons.
At another university, in the wake of "Valuing Diversity Week," a student wrote to the campus paper -- and, surprisingly, the letter was published. Among other points, the student wrote:
"Missing from Valuing Diversity Week ... has been an acknowledgment that diversity comes in many forms, and particularly that diversity of thought and opinion are at least as indispensable to the strength of our community as diversity in race, ethnicity and class."
Speaking from experience, he reported that "conservatives students ... are routinely marginalized, and, even more disappointingly, conservative ideas generally have no place in [our] classrooms."
He then cited the result of his examination of the publicly available voter registration rolls: "Of 84 faculty members whose voter registration we could determine definitively, 79 professors (or 94%) were registered as Democrats, while only 5 professors (or 6%) were registered as Republicans. This represents a nearly 16:1 imbalance." And, of course, none of the identified Republicans taught courses in politics or world affairs.
I recently had a chance to correspond with a military officer who was doing graduate work at a major university. Some faculty had opposed his admission because he was an active-duty military officer (though their smokescreen was that his masters degree might not be legitimate, though the school where he got it was accredited by the same bodies that accredited that very university).
When he arrived, he was pointedly ostracised. The bigoted assumption that military men are all violent and fascist was so widespread on campus that people stepped aside to avoid even casual physical contact with him. So much for embracing diversity.
"But within two months," he reports, "most of the faculty members considered me a friend, despite our differences in world-view. Their view of the military as knuckle-dragging Neanderthals looking for their next murder victim was shattered."
His research was on military matters -- and his data, which could not be refuted, flew in the face of faculty beliefs. It is to the credit of the faculty that, when faced with irrefutable evidence, one of them even offered to co-author an article based on his research for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. In two months of joint research, the faculty member "was turned."
"The peacenik crowd is wrong," says this soldier, "in their assumption that military officers like war. We hate it ... and when we fight, it is us who drive the train on doing it morally. Now the department is trying to recruit more [military] people to come here. Amazing."
Amazing indeed. But encouraging.
The reason our university faculties are full of people who accept hogwash in the name of political correctness is not because they are stupid or dishonest -- quite the contrary. It is simple human nature to accept as truth whatever the people around you unquestioningly believe. So P.C. dogmas that are outside of a faculty member's area of expertise are accepted without question simply because nobody else seems to be questioning them.
But this is precisely why litmus tests in hiring are so deeply harmful to the whole educational enterprise. It is not just students who need to be exposed to diversity of belief -- it is the faculty themselves who need people to disagree with them in order to stir their thoughts and bring out their best thinking.
So instead of introducing a new system of anti-leftist witch hunts, the best solution is for the few conservative or traditional-faith faculty and staff members to open their mouths and speak boldly, and for students to actively but politely question the dogmas of political correctness in the classroom.
Of course, this can be dangerous. So conservative and traditional-faith professors and students are advised to keep a tape recorder running. Not so they can catch their professors in some foolish statement, but rather so they can defend themselves against the witch-hunt charges that have so often been falsely leveled against conservatives.
Tape-recording in self-defense is simple common sense. Because there are too many examples in recent years of anti-conservative and anti-religious witch hunts on P.C. campuses. (Rather like the bigoted mentality that recently drove diverse opinion off a Greensboro campus.)
It's always a good idea to have proof of what you actually said, so you can't be overwhelmed by people who misrepresent your words and actions.
Because that's what American universities are like right now -- all someone has to do in many places is raise a cry of "misogynist" or "racist," "homophobe" or "right-wing Christian" to end the participation of someone who dares to question the Established Church.
But that's the sort of thing that always happens in the struggle for freedom against those who abuse power and seek to enforce uniformity.
Fortunately, most of the time raising your voice to question the dogma won't result in a witch hunt.
It will, however, probably elicit a more subtle but effective form of censure. I remember years ago, in a conversation with a good friend who is on the faculty of a North Carolina university, I happened to use the word "sin." It stopped the conversation cold.
With a look of genuine surprise (and this is a truly open-minded man), he said that he could not believe that any intelligent people still used that word.
Aside from the flattering thought that he still considered me to be intelligent (I said he was open-minded), I realized that he had lived so long in the sheltered environment of the university that he simply never met anyone who would use the word "sin" in conversation about moral issues.
And yet it would not have occurred to him that the faculty he belonged to suffered from a lack of intellectual diversity.
That's because he -- and everyone else on the faculty -- defined "intellectual" in such a way as to exclude anybody who believed in a God whose commandments it was a sin to break.
The problem is not that everyone on our university faculties is a monster of bigotry. Most faculty members are perfectly willing to be open-minded.
But there has to be someone physically present who is willing to state a diverging view.
We don't need new rules. We don't need more witch hunts. We just need genuine diversity in hiring.
And because the imbalance is so huge, maybe we could use a little affirmative action for a while to stock up on conservatives and traditionally religious faculty and staff till they come to, say, half the level that they represent in the public at large.
"But how could we identify such people without asking them what their religious and political beliefs are?"
Well, since asking about a "commitment to diversity" seems to work quite well at achieving left-wing political conformity, try specifically defining "diversity" so as to include "respect for traditional Christianity and Judaism" and "openness to ideas from every part of the political spectrum"?
Maybe all we need to do in order to get some open-mindedness on campus is to ask for it -- and show respect for those who achieve it.
Copyright © 2003 by Orson Scott Card.
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