Universities Flunk In Intellectual Diversity

, Shannon Blosser, Leave a comment

A new study released by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) shows that colleges and universities are not taking an active role in improving intellectual diversity on campus. It also found that 49 percent of college students surveyed say that professors inject their political views into the classroom.

The findings are part of the report “Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action” that was released this month by ACTA and authored by Dr. Barry Latzer and Dr. Jerry Martin. In it, the authors look at the intellectual diversity climate in American higher education today. They also examine the perception students have about teachers who attempt to discuss politics in courses other than political science or government where they might be appropriate.

ACTA’s study comes just a few months after 30 institutions and organizations signed a statement on academic freedom issued by the American Council on Education. That statement indicated a commitment to principles of intellectual diversity and academic freedom should be welcomed on college campuses.

Unfortunately, said ACTA President Anne Neal, few colleges and universities truly have a commitment to intellectual diversity today. After contacting more than 100 institutions, including the 30 organizations that signed the statement and many of the nation’s top university and colleges, ACTA found that most have made no effort to improve intellectual diversity since the statement was signed. Only the University of Oregon has held a meeting to discuss intellectual diversity, but nothing more has come of it.

“It’s all talk and no action,” Neal said. “Higher education simply can’t have it both ways. Colleges and university presidents say, they, alone are able to correct the situation in the classroom, but then they refuse to do anything but offer lip service to the idea of intellectual diversity.”

According to the study, a recently released national survey found that 72 percent of faculty members in higher education consider themselves liberal, while only 15 percent consider themselves conservative. The most one-sided departments, the survey found, were English, philosophy, political science, and religious studies that are dominated by liberals.

Where this becomes a problem, the ACTA report contends is when professors inject their political views in the classroom and hold one-sided discussions on important topics of the day.

To see how prevalent the problem is, ACTA commissioned a study conducted by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut. The survey pool included students from the top 50 institutions based on the U.S. News and World Report rankings. Forty-six percent of the students surveyed said that professors “used the classroom to present their personal political views.” Additionally, 42 percent said classroom reading assignments often presented just one side of an argument.

“Education only happens when students are presented with a variety of perspectives and encouraged to think for themselves,” Neal said. “Yet this report is the first serious effort to begin thinking about ways to achieve greater intellectual diversity that are consistent with academic freedom and other academic norms.”

So how does the ACTA study suggest colleges go about ensuring intellectual diversity while protecting academic freedom? The report lists 16 things that a college or university could do. They are:

• Conduct a self-survey to assess the state of intellectual diversity on campus
• Incorporate intellectual diversity into institutional statements and activities on diversity
• Eliminate speech codes
• Encourage balanced panels and speaker series
• Establish clear campus policies to ensure hecklers or threats of violence do not prevent speakers from speaking
• Include intellectual diversity concerns in university guidelines on teaching
• Include intellectual diversity issues in student course evaluations
• Amend hiring, tenure, and promotion guidelines
• Use visiting professors to achieve greater diversity
• Encourage departments to diversify
• Establish new academic programs
• Ensure freedom of the student press
• Prohibit political bias in student-funded groups
• Seek a commitment to intellectual diversity in the hiring process
• Create a university ombudsman

ACTA also calls on members of collegiate governing boards to endorse the American Council on Education’s statement on academic freedom.

“It isn’t fair to students to bring them to campus for four years and expose them to only one point of view,” University of Colorado regent Tom Lucero said in an ACTA press release. “It is up to the university to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Shannon Blosser (sblosser@popecenter.org) is a staff writer with the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Chapel Hill, N.C. Reprint courtesy of the Pope Center.