A new op-ed in The Wall Street Journal by Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth argues for why universities need to do more to facilitate the study of conservative, libertarian and religious ideas.
Going beyond the call for allowing those outside the political majority the ability to speak when invited to campus, Roth clearly defines that “To create deeper intellectual and political diversity, we need an affirmative-action program for the full range of conservative ideas and traditions, because on too many of our campuses they seldom get the sustained, scholarly attention that they deserve.”
He goes on to outline a program that Wesleyan, along with Vassar, launched in 2013 with help from the Posse Foundation. The initiative brought “cohorts of military veterans to campus on full scholarships. These students with military backgrounds are older than our other undergraduates and have very different life experiences; more of them also hold conservative political views. One notable episode illustrates how this program has contributed to broadening discussion on campus. A student named Bryan Stascavage, who had served almost six years as a U.S. Army military intelligence analyst in Iraq and Haiti, came to Wesleyan to study social sciences. In the fall of 2015, he published an op-ed in the student newspaper questioning the Black Lives Matter movement, which enjoys widespread support here. He asked whether the protests were “actually achieving anything positive” because of the damage done by the extremists in their ranks.
The essay caused an uproar, including demands by activists to cut funding to the school newspaper. Most students, faculty and administrators recognized that free speech needed to be defended, especially for unpopular views. They rose to the challenge of responding substantively (if sometimes heatedly) to Bryan’s argument.”
Roth describes “Another new initiative for intellectual diversity, launched with the support of one our trustees, [that]created an endowment of more than $3 million for exposing students at Wesleyan to ideas outside the liberal consensus. This fall, our own academic departments and centers will begin offering courses and programs to cover topics such as “the philosophical and economic foundations of private property, free enterprise and market economies” and “the relationship of tolerance to individual rights, freedom, and voluntary association.”
Trustees can, as the above example illustrates, be an immense force for change on campus and are in a unique position to advance viewpoint diversity through their influence and support.
And, most excitingly for Heterodox Academy, Roth cites and links our new Viewpoint Diversity Experience as a tool for helping students learn other perspectives and engage with those with whom they disagree politically:
“Trying to understand the logic of someone else’s arguments is a core skill that schools should be paying more attention to, and it doesn’t always require elaborate new programs. The group Heterodox Academy, which includes faculty from many universities and from across the political spectrum, has recently launched the “Viewpoint Diversity Experience,” an online effort to combat “the destructive power of ideological tribalism.” The aim is “to prepare students for democratic citizenship and success in the political diverse workplaces they will soon inhabit.'”
In short, this is a compelling piece and President Roth deserves praise for so succinctly discussing the many reasons why viewpoint diversity is needed on campus, and the steps Wesleyan is taking to decrease orthodoxy and make his campus a place where all can be heard and none are afraid to speak up.