Debating Higher Education

In this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education, Ted Gup calls for the idea of diversity to include political ideas, and he reports mumbling “sorry” to a parent who complains that his conservative son didn’t feel comfortable speaking his ideas in class.

I’m annoyed at Gup for citing ACTA’s distorted surveys as proof that conservatives face discrimination on college campuses, and I try to correct his errors on my College Freedom blog.

But I don’t want to let a few false facts and the myth of the oppressed conservative get in the way of what is a valid point about the need to bring more intellectual diversity to colleges.

I am a strong advocate of intellectual diversity; I only object when conservatives like David Horowitz use “intellectual diversity” as a verbal Trojan horse to demand passing the Academic Bill of Rights, preferential hiring for conservative instructors, and censorship of professors in the classroom. All of these things destroy intellectual diversity, betray academic freedom, and damage scholarly integrity.

So what are the correct ways to encourage more intellectual diversity? It begins by asking students to take personal responsibility and speak out for their views, not squeaking out apologies if they’re too cowardly to stand up for what they believe. But we need to do more to help students challenge professors and each other.

I believe that the AAUP, higher education associations, and the various conservative and liberal campus advocacy groups should unite together to promote more debate of ideas on campus. This could include urging colleges to have more guest speaker debates, forming student groups to promote debates, and creating a national network of available speakers.

One step toward promoting debates is try to create some of them at the AAUP’s annual conference on higher education. I’m planning to contact various organizations to invite them to submit proposals for the conference that would encourage more intellectual debates. Academic conferences are notorious for being both boring and lacking substantive debates; that’s why promoting changes in how we do conferences can be a first step in promoting more debates on campus.

One thought on “Debating Higher Education

  1. “Academic conferences are notorious for being both boring and lacking substantive debates”

    You must be going to the wrong conferences. The conferences in the sciences and engineering tend to be full of exciting new ideas. Formal debates are rare, but challenging questions at the end of a talk are standard.

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