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College Students: 

Make your school a “Heterodox University” by affirming viewpoint diversity

Do you want your university to be intellectually and ideologically more orthodox – that is, tending toward one acceptable point of view – or more heterodox – that is, accommodating diverse points of view?

If you want a wider range of ideas, speakers, and professors on campus, please consider proposing a resolution to your student government, to put up for vote by the entire student body. See if you can rally a majority to declare yourselves a Heterodox University (or college). See a blog by Jonathan Haidt on the context around the creation of this initiative.

Below we offer sample text for such a resolution. Modify it to fit the issues at your school.


Resolution

At [your school’s name], we know that exposure to diversity broadens our minds and prepares us for citizenship in a diverse democratic society. Research shows that the kind of diversity that most improves the quality and creativity of thinking is viewpoint diversity. When everyone thinks alike, there is a danger of groupthink, prejudice, dogmatism, and orthodoxy. People in the majority benefit from interacting with individuals who see things differently.

At a time when American democracy is polarizing into antagonistic camps and informational bubbles, many colleges and universities are becoming more intellectually and politically homogeneous. Orthodoxies arise, dissent is punished, and quality declines. We do not want that to happen in our community.

We therefore welcome heterodoxy, meaning that we want to support those within our community who hold dissenting or minority viewpoints; we want them to express themselves freely and without fear. We value viewpoint diversity not merely out of compassion for those in the minority but also because such diversity helps us all to develop skills essential for life after graduation, including the ability to judge the quality of ideas for ourselves, the ability to formulate arguments against ideas we reject, and the ability to live and work amicably alongside those whose ideas and values we do not share.

Therefore, be it resolved that [your school] is a Heterodox University

We make the following specific requests to the faculty and administration:

1) Adopt the Chicago Principles on Freedom of Expression

A clear way for the university to show commitment to viewpoint diversity is by adopting the University of Chicago’s Principles on Freedom of Expression, which states in part:

The University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.

We request that the Faculty Senate endorse the “Chicago Principles” as official university policy.

2) Implement a non-obstruction policy for protests

We support the right of all students to protest against speakers and writers with whom they disagree, but we ask that protests be done in a way that does not deprive other students of their rights to speak and hear. When members of our community shout down a speaker, or take other actions intended to make it more difficult for a speaker to speak or for an audience to hear, they are practicing obstruction, censorship, and sometimes intimidation, not free speech. Such practices have no place in any academic community. We request that the university formulate and enforce a non-obstruction policy. As stated in the Chicago Principles: “The University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.”

3) Improve viewpoint diversity

We request that the university include viewpoint diversity, and particularly political diversity, in its diversity policies and in its efforts to diversify the faculty and the curriculum. We want to encounter a range of viewpoints in the classroom, just as we will after we graduate.


Notes:

  • If you would like to learn more, please contact Nick Phillips. He’ll connect you to other students who will be introducing this resolution at their schools, and he’ll offer advice and support as well.
  • Check whether your university already has a policy on how protests are to be conducted. If so, read it carefully and decide if it is adequate, and if it is being properly enforced. Edit resolution #2 as needed. Here, for example, are the protest policies at the University of Chicago, which outlines general principles, and at New York University, which offers more detailed guidance. But note that having good policies is not enough; Chicago does not actually enforce its protest policy, and its student government failed to support the policy.
  • If you give this a try, please tell us about it by emailing Jeremy Willinger. We will feature your experiences on our website and social channels.