Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Diversity in the Academy? Via Arts & Letters Daily come the links to the debate on "intellectual diversity" on campus. Here is the article, with position statements by David Horowitz and Stanley Fish. Generally, Horowitz thinks the academy is liberal, and that an "Academic Bill of Rights" fostering "intellectual diversity" is needed to keep universities and colleges from becoming halls of indoctrination. Fish, opposing, disagrees that intellectual diversity is a worthwhile goal, and adds that Horowitz's bill is open to misuse by partisan politicians (of either side) to advance an agenda.

I'm with Fish on this one, even though a rereading of many of his points, substituting the words "racial diversity" for "intellectual diversity," is a telling exercise. Try this one, for example:

Now if intellectual diversity is not an academic value, adherence to it as an end in itself will not further an academic goal; but it will further some goal, and that goal will be political. It will be part of an effort to alter the academy so that it becomes an extension of some partisan vision of the way the world should be.
I agree with Horowitz that the left dominates academia, often to the point of ridicule of non-conforming opinion. I have had attended classes in which the syllabus might as well have listed the requirement that students accept certain controversial assumptions as prerequisite to participation in discussion and essay topic selection. This is not always out of bounds, though. Sometimes participation in a discussion requires a certain suspension of dispute. (The professor teaching feminist readings of the Torah, a class I once took, does not have time in the schedule to debate prime movers. If you dispute the premise, you might want to skip the class.) I also recognize that when formulating the curriculum, certain assumptions will be deemed fair while other will not. Holocaust denial is right out. Unfortunately, too many in the academy would put critics of Marxism (or, more specifically, the social science assumptions that are derivative thereof) in the same category.

But Horowitz is self-consciously arming against the left with the left's own aegis. If you dispute the vagaries of "hostile environment" and "diversity" claims in other matters (as I do), then intellectual consistancy requires that you not make an exception here. So higher education is leftist? Unfair, but so is life. We don't (unless we're leftists) legislate against unfairness. We may fight it, but we hardly seek restriction or oversight as a certain remedy; in fact, we may more commonly see restriction as compounding the problem. Thus, Horowitz's point is fair, but Fish is also right that the point is merely a debating point, that it highlights certain farfetched notions of the educational establishment (i.e., that diversity of race -- meaning more black people -- is essential to an educational institution) by proposing a related farfetched notion (i.e., that intellectual diversity -- meaning more conservatives -- is as well).

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