How to Promote Ideological Diversity at Washington & Lee

by Neely Young

It is well known by now that the professoriate at many colleges and universities, particularly the more elite ones, is dominated by politically liberal faculty. American higher education needs ideological diversity in classrooms, particularly in those that touch on political and social issues. Disciplines like sociology, history, political science, literature, and philosophy have been increasingly shaped by progressive, intellectual currents over the last several years. Conservative students often avoid such courses because they feel they will be called out on their views. On many campuses, there are no conservative professors in the social sciences and humanities.

Indeed, many classrooms in these subjects are “homogenous islands.” In a recent study published by the National Association of Scholars, “Homogenous: The Political Affiliation of Elite, Liberal Arts Faculty,” Michal Langbert states that such homogeneity of viewpoint may well bias research and teaching, constrict intellectual discussion within the faculty, and deprive students of diverse viewpoints.

In his new book, Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College Campuses, Michael Roth, the President of Wesleyan College, has made an appeal for heterodoxy of campus viewpoints, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. As he says, “We need an affirmative action program for ideas emerging from conservative and religious traditions.”

The situation at Washington and Lee does not seem to be as dire as at some schools, but it is undoubtedly true that the faculty is more politically liberal than at any point in the past, that many conservative professors and students feel like outsiders and are not as willing to express their points of view, and that many of the liberal faculty members have played an outsized role in the controversies and crises of the last few years. The vote of 79% of the faculty to change the name of the university is a strong indication of the left-leaning propensities of that group.

In its new strategic plan of spring, 2018, the university states that “we are . . . diverse in our thinking.” Some might argue this point, but it is good that the university then states that “we will sustain our intellectual diversity.” We are not sure whether intellectual diversity is the same as ideological diversity, but we believe these two terms are undoubtedly linked. We are also not sure whether intellectual/ideological diversity needs to be “sustained” or “re-invigorated,” but we agree that intellectual/ideological diversity should be the mark of a vibrant educational environment.

How can greater ideological diversity be achieved within the Washington and Lee faculty? One place to begin would be a clear statement by the administration regarding the value of ideological diversity. A model for this would be the statement of “Diversity and Mission . . .” by Claremont McKenna College, which declares that “It [the college] should maintain its historic practice of hiring faculty members who represent a broad spectrum of political and academic philosophies.” An additional step would be to look at not only excellence in teaching and research but also ideological (political, religious, cultural, etc.) diversity when hiring new faculty. We do not wish to see this become the only factor which qualifies or disqualifies someone from being hired, but believe it could be considered as one factor among others.

A good model for achieving greater ideological diversity would be the Heterodox Academy.  This is a non-partisan collaborative of more than 3,000 professors, administrators, and graduate students committed to enhancing the quality and impact of research-and improving education- by promoting open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement in institutions of higher-  learning.  Each member of the academy endorses the following statement:

I believe that university life requires that people with diverse viewpoints and perspectives encounter each other in an environment where they feel free to speak up and challenge each other.  I am concerned that many academic fields and universities lack sufficient viewpoint diversity.  I support viewpoint diversity, mutual understanding, and constructive disagreement in my academic field, my institution, my department, and my classroom.

The Heterodox Academy has an impressive Board and Advisory Committee, and its Executive Director is Debra Mashek, who previously was a Professor of Psychology at Harvey Mudd College.  The members come from a variety of schools including, but not limited to, the University of Chicago, NYU, Sarah Lawrence, University of Michigan, University of California-Berkeley, Stanford, Bucknell, Dartmouth, Davidson, M.I.T., Columbia, Yale, Harvard, University of Virginia, William and Mary, and Duke.  Several schools have more than one member including UVA, W&M, Duke, and a number of the Ivies.  In looking over the first 1,000 of their over 3,000 members, I could not find one person from Washington and Lee.

We do not wish to see the ousting of liberal faculty, or any attempt to silence them.  We believe in absolute freedom of expression and speech for all.  However, we would like to see greater ideological diversity within the faculty and do believe that there are ways that this can be developed. Recently, the Regents of the University of Colorado, a school which is known for its politically liberal culture both within the faculty and among the students, called for the university administration to undertake regular and detailed measurement of the political climate on campus. They also recommended the development of campus programs centered on conservative thought and culture, and examination of methods to promote the hiring of more conservative professors.  They have suggested that one of the ways to accomplish this is to look for “diversity in scholarly work and research.” As one might imagine, this has created a degree of controversy at the University as has the recent hiring of a President who is considered by some to be too conservative in his thought and viewpoint. We are not suggesting that this approach should be the model for W&L, but the need for greater ideological diversity, particularly in the liberal arts, is something which the university should carefully consider.

Arizona State University recently established a School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership which promotes a conversation between conservatives and liberals and relies on a classical curriculum to achieve its objective.  There are examples of similar initiatives at other colleges and universities.

Another approach developed at the University of Colorado would seem to present an opportunity for Washington and Lee. In 2013, a Conservative Thought and Policy Program was established as a part of the Bruce D. Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization.  The purpose of the program is to encourage greater intellectual diversity and is totally supported by private funding. The program hires visiting scholars for a period of one to two years.  These conservative professors teach classes in the curriculum and present lectures and lead symposia for the broader University of Colorado community.  Another program which could serve as a model for Washington and Lee is the James Madison Program at Princeton University.  The Generals Redoubt would be more than willing to work with the university in developing a similar program A program such as this could attract funding from a variety of sources such as the Generals Redoubt, the Institute For Honor, the Futch Forum, individual alums, and various foundations.

The Generals Redoubt does not believe that Washington and Lee should become a doctrinaire right-wing school or a doctrinaire left-wing school.  What we wish to see is an open and free exchange of ideas between people of different political and social perspectives.  One thing is certain- greater ideological diversity will only occur when there is a strong commitment from the President and administration to achieving this goal.  Although we have seen and applaud the efforts of the administration to achieve greater ethnic and gender diversity, we have not seen any real efforts so far to achieve greater ideological diversity, either within the faculty or in programming.  We have several ideas of how ideological diversity can be promoted, and would happily share these thoughts with the university.

Neely Young is vice president of The Generals Redoubt, a newly formed group of Washington & Lee University alumni. This essay was written for and distributed by The Generals Redoubt.

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12 responses to “How to Promote Ideological Diversity at Washington & Lee

  1. Thank you for this post. The ship is beginning to turn at last. Our problem to date has been that only leftist professors show up at the table, and make demands, and assert themselves, and take principled stands. Those who disagree hide instead.

    Why? Because no one outside academia who share their views will show up at the table either, and support their brethren professors.

    The sad fact is that our political and cultural establishment has abandoned not only their kindred professors, but their own children too.

    Now that is changing, thanks to groups like yours and those mentioned in your post. We owe you all great thanks for what you’re doing. Hopefully now, help is on the way at long last. We have no choice but to come to your defense before it is too late. Fortunately, your opponents are not as tough as they seem, once they are confronted.

  2. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    As long as families continue to write $57,000 a year tuition at W and L nothing will change.

    • “As long as families continue to write $57,000 a year tuition at W and L nothing will change.”

      James is right. Colleges and universities are stealing from the savings of American families while at the very same time those very same colleges and universities pile debt on the backs of those families students, and poison their brains, hobbling their future, and America’s future.

      American colleges and universities have been ruining generations of Americans for decades now. That ruination mounts all around us today. It is plain to see. Cut off higher education’s money and demand its reform. Otherwise nothing changes.

  3. Hard to get ideological diversity when the more educated you become the more you realize how little you know. Ideological diversity exists because of the lack of education.

    • “…the more educated you become the more you realize how little you know.”

      Thanks NN. Your comments are always good for a laugh.

      Many of today’s college students and recent graduates are profoundly ignorant AND arrogant.

      “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s ignorance of economics and foreign affairs typifies her generation. Despite holding expensive degrees in both Economics and International Relations from Boston University, Ocasio-Cortez threw up her hands in exasperation during an interview on Margaret Hoover’s “Firing Line” program, laughing, “I’m not the expert on geopolitics.” Fortunately for her, in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king; and among a blithely ignorant generation, the lightly educated activist is congresswoman.”

      “The seed of Millennial miseducation, which grew into the Tree of the Lack of Knowledge as activist educators substituted ideology for scholarship, is finally bearing its rotten fruit. According to one survey, one third of Millennials believe President George W. Bush killed more people than Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Over 40 percent of Millennials have never heard of Mao Zedong; another 40 percent and 30 percent, respectively, are unfamiliar with Vladimir Lenin and Che Guevara. Two-thirds of Millennials cannot identify Auschwitz, and 22 percent have never heard of the Holocaust, twice the percentage of American adults on average.”

      “Millennials might not know much, but according to a 2016 Harvard survey, they know they don’t support capitalism, with 51 percent of young adults rejecting economic freedom.”

      https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-the-voice-of-an-ignorant-generation

      • Read Nathan. He’s got prose and insights for the ages. For instance:

        (Regarding AOC), Fortunately for her, in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king; and among a blithely ignorant generation, the lightly educated activist is congresswoman.”

        “The seed of Millennial miseducation, which grew into the Tree of the Lack of Knowledge as activist educators substituted ideology for scholarship, is finally bearing its rotten fruit. According to one survey, one third of Millennials believe President George W. Bush killed more people than Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Over 40 percent of Millennials have never heard of Mao Zedong; another 40 percent and 30 percent, respectively, are unfamiliar with Vladimir Lenin and Che Guevara. Two-thirds of Millennials cannot identify Auschwitz, and 22 percent have never heard of the Holocaust, twice the percentage of American adults on average.”

        And American students, our kids, are paying through the nose to be taught by these ignorant fools disguised as professors of higher education. What do they get beyond crushing debt? Garbage, anger, grievance, and more ignorance.

        • ” According to one survey, one third of Millennials believe President George W. Bush killed more people than Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.”

          Which 1/3?

          Same ones as these, perhaps?

          “The ones that stick out are those who still don’t believe the virus is real. The ones who scream at you for a magic medicine and that Joe Biden is going to ruin the USA. All while gasping for breath on 100% Vapotherm. They tell you there must be another reason they are sick. They call you names and ask why you have to wear all that ‘stuff’ because they don’t have COVID because it’s not real. Yes. This really happens,”

  4. “It is well known by now that the professoriate at many colleges and universities, particularly the more elite ones, is dominated by politically liberal faculty. ”

    Well DUH! I suppose you could hire less educated faculty.

    • Those that can’t do, teach.

      • And those that say that are unlearned as the excuse for their condition.

        • You have obviously never studied technology at a University.

          While studying for my master’s degree and working in technology, I found that very few of my professors had ever actually done what they were teaching. I also found that their book knowledge left much to be desired.

          Some of those expensive text books I had to buy weren’t much good either. In some classes I entertained myself by pointing out errors in the required text. One professor forward my corrections to the author. This resulted in two changed to future editions of that textbook.

          • That’s not unusual. Texts often contain errors, especially in examples and problems, and the answers in the back of the text. That’s a result of graduate students. They’re the ones who generally make up the problems and solutions.

            There is also the growth of error. The best example is the prehistoric horse. The first ones discovered were the size of a large dog, (like a retriever). “Large dog” was how they were described in texbooks in the late 1800s. By the 1920s, just “dog”. A strange thing then occurred in the late 1930s. They became “small dog, like a fox terrier”. That description persists today. That incorrect description is because the cute little doogie looks like he has a saddle. BTW, Asta, Nick and Nora’s dog, is probably the reason.

            You should read Eric Temple Bell’s description of the error in the derivation of the Natural Number used in texts and how that it persists.

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