Ohio has passed a bill to create “intellectual diversity centers” on several public campuses in the state, appropriating $24 million to support them.
One would have thought that the campuses themselves were intellectual diversity centers.
The usual rejoinder from their supporters is that campuses have been overtaken by leftists and these centers are intended as counterweights. Ironically enough, they’re a sort of affirmative action for conservatives.
I don’t have any data on, say, the ideological leanings of the faculty at the University of Toledo. But even if it’s a school full of progressives, the idea of a dedicated counterweight is silly for a more basic reason.
It starts with a prescribed answer and works its way backward. In that sense, it’s antithetical to free inquiry.
If academic freedom means anything at all, it means the ability to follow the research wherever it leads, even if it leads to unpopular conclusions. It does not start with conclusions.
If someone is hired specifically to be “conservative,” what happens when conservatism changes and they don’t? (For example, it was long commonplace for Republicans to be pro-choice.) Or, what happens if their research leads in unexpected directions? And what if … this is a big one … there are actually more than two political camps? A libertarian might sound conservative on economics but liberal on reproductive rights, for instance. Someone following Catholic teachings closely might be pro-life on abortion, aligning with conservatives there, but would also be anti–death penalty and pro-union, aligning comfortably with liberals there. The idea of two camps of automatons that are mirror images of each other is simply false.
A true intellectual diversity center would hire people from many different ideological perspectives and have them make arguments with each other—civilly—in public. That would be worthwhile. But just establishing a beachhead of the like-minded doesn’t foster intellectual diversity at all.
Thanks to everyone who wrote in to respond to the piece about the dilemmas of allocating limited seats in allied health programs at open-admissions institutions. Nobody had the “aha!” answer, which was a sign of really honest and thoughtful readers. I remain grateful for having readers who take questions in the spirit they’re asked and who aren’t just trying to score points.
The one solution I didn’t propose—but several readers did—was a lottery. Set a few basic qualifications, and then choose the winners randomly. If the basic qualifications are widely met, then it manages to be unbiased. It’s also adjustable to any given size; you can adjust the number of winners as needed.
I have to admit that the lottery method has a certain fairness to it. Put differently, its arbitrariness is distributed evenly. But I’m uneasy with saying to a highly qualified student that they might get in in a year, they might get in in three years or they might never get in, depending on pure chance. As a student, I’d resent hearing that, and I doubt that I’m alone. While it works admirably well from an institutional perspective, it makes students’ planning unduly difficult, if not mercurial.
The method with the most support, judging by feedback, was high-level performance in some key college classes as prerequisites, such as anatomy and physiology. It’s not perfect—it selects for prior social capital to some degree, and it tells you nothing about temperament—but it’s relevant, it’s available to everyone and it actually exists. That last point matters.
Thanks again to everyone who wrote. The thoughtfulness of the responses gives me hope.
Finally, thanks to everyone who sent gracious notes about the new job. My favorite line, unsurprisingly, came from The Girl: “Direct a think tank? So you go tell them to think harder?”
Well, no, but the image of it made me smile.