Wisconsin GOP Set on Legislating Greater “Intellectual Diversity”


In yesterday’s Wisconsin State Journal, there is an article by Nico Savidge titled “Complaining of Bias on Campus, Republicans Push for ‘Intellectual Diversity’ at UW Schools.”

Here are the opening paragraphs:

“Conservative critics of higher education in Wisconsin have opened a new chapter of their long­running complaints about institutions such as UW­Madison, scrutinizing specific university courses and even a class reading they consider biased or inappropriate.

“The shift is yet another sign of the divide between an increasingly conservative state government and a university system that houses programs, research and courses that some Republicans view as frivolous and liberally biased at best and hostile indoctrination at worst.

“It could also foreshadow new legislation that seeks to change what many Republicans see as a lack of “intellectual diversity” on college campuses, by pushing institutions to invite more conservative speakers and hire more right­ leaning faculty.

“How, exactly, the Legislature would accomplish that goal remains to be seen, but the issue could emerge soon as lawmakers craft the state budget this spring and summer.

“To proponents of academic freedom on and off campus, the push from state Sen. Steve Nass, R­-Whitewater, and others to seek out bias in the operations of the university—and to use the prospect of budget cuts as a means to push for changes, as Nass has—is a troubling  overreach.”

Here is some more on Nass’s record:

“Long a critic of the University of Wisconsin System, Nass has made headlines over the past six months by deriding programs and curriculum at UW­Madison.

“In July he raised concerns about a reading in a sociology course that explored the sexual preferences of men using gay dating apps, calling the essay ‘offensive.’

“In December he and Rep. David Murphy, R­Greenville, criticized a course on white identity and racism titled ‘The Problem of Whiteness.’

“And last week Nass told his colleagues that a program in which students discuss masculinity amounted to the university declaring a ‘war on men.’”

But Nass is hardly on some sort of solo crusade: “In September Assembly Republicans identified ‘ideological diversity’ as one of their priorities for the next session, writing that they planned to challenge UW to ‘ensure diverse perspectives are present and protected in our classrooms and faculty lounges.’”

Joerg Tiede’s comments on the obvious threats to academic freedom are presented in the article: “While Republicans and Democrats have long sought to reshape universities through their governing boards and other means, the extent to which Nass has delved into the specific details of courses and readings is new and troubling, said Hans ­Joerg Tiede, associate secretary for the Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance at the American Association of University Professors.”

Beyond the broad concerns about the continuing attacks on academic freedom—as well as shared governance and tenure—in Walker’s Wisconsin, I think that several other points need to be made.

First, the Far Right has now almost reflexively adopted the tactic of taking every Progressive position and flipping it to serve its very opposite ideological purposes. So, in other instances, the “real racists” are not White supremacists but the “race-obsessed” activists who stand up against racial prejudice. In this case, intellectual “diversity” is no longer the inclusion and consideration of long-underrepresented viewpoints but, instead, a re-emphasis of White heterosexual male privilege.

Second, this strategy also depends on the notion that Far Right political and cultural viewpoints are going unheard and that there is no check against the “Liberal indoctrination” of college students. In actual fact, the Far Right media has made the propagation of its political and cultural talking points and the vilification of Leftist radicalism” into a highly successful and profitable industry. So, this sort of effort to insist on “intellectual diversity” is not about having a voice in the conversation. It is, instead, about dominating the conversation wherever and whenever they are able to do so.

Third, we must keep pointing out that this tactic of misappropriating the language of Progressive politics to promote causes that are antithetical to Progressive values may be effective politically but it is as logically fallacious as it is intellectually dishonest. In most cases, it depends on often-repeated truisms about the domination of our colleges and universities by radical Leftists, and those truisms are supported by a very few highly inflammatory but not actually representative illustrations.

Lastly, the emphasis in such assertions is almost never on how legislating a narrower world view is a basis for a richer educational experience and more profound intellectual achievements. Instead, we are asked to accept that ideologues with a very pronounced and even prideful anti-intellectualism have some special insight into how our institutions of higher learning can best fulfill their missions.


Savidge’s complete article is available at: host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/education/university/complaining­of­bias­on­campus­republicans­push­for­intellectual­diversity/a.


4 thoughts on “Wisconsin GOP Set on Legislating Greater “Intellectual Diversity”

  1. Pingback: UW-Madison Chancellor Defends Academic Freedom | ACADEME BLOG

  2. It was interesting to read this just after the post on the UW Chancellor’s defense of academic freedom. If the UW lives by those stirring words, I should think serious scholars of all ideological bents would find it a welcoming and challenging environment. We badly need places where our disagreements are subjected to rigorous debate and open challenge.

    That is, ideological diversity should not be a problem in a culture of open discussion and argument.

  3. “In most cases, it depends on often-repeated truisms about the domination of our colleges and universities by radical Leftists, and those truisms are supported by a very few highly inflammatory but not actually representative illustrations.”

    Irrespective of this particular legislative cause, the leftward tilt of university faculty is well-attested in empirical data. Academia has also moved further to the left in the past 20 years according to the HERI faculty survey.


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