I am an assistant professor of Government and Law at Lafayette College, where, I estimate, roughly one-third of students identify as Republican or conservative. In February and March, concerns about low viewpoint diversity became a major topic of conversation on the Lafayette campus due to a series of events:
- In early February, our campus newspaper quoted a retiring professor as saying, “I think [Lafayette] has dramatically shifted in a politically correct, intolerant direction…. I saw 25 years ago when I came here that there was a lot of freedom of…diverse expression and I leave a place where it’s very intolerant and there’s little freedom of expression if you don’t agree with the ruling party.”
- In mid-February, a student founded a book club aimed at fostering discussion of conservative ideas and arguments.
- In mid-February, a student and I kicked off a series of panel discussions and talks, called the Mill Series, designed to inject important non-left perspectives into the campus conversation, and to create a forum for debating these perspectives in as open and free a manner as possible.
- In early March, two students (one my Mill Series co-founder) wrote separate editorials in The Lafayette diagnosing a left intellectual monoculture on the Lafayette campus.
Notably, many of the students most active in these efforts, including my Mill Series co-founder, self-identify as left-wing or left-leaning.
In response to the above events, Lafayette’s student body president formed an ad hoc committee to address “increasing concerns” from students about “intellectual stagnancy” and effective limitations on “the free exchange of ideas.” In late April, this committee produced a report (1) suggesting that viewpoint diversity is lacking at Lafayette, (2) arguing that low viewpoint diversity is harmful to the pursuit of truth and the intellectual and characterological development of students, and (3) recommending that the Lafayette administration prioritize viewpoint diversity and endorse the Chicago Principles.
Some faculty members and students have insinuated that Lafayette’s student body president, in forming the ad hoc committee and commissioning the report, is effectively supporting bigotry. Others have criticized the composition of the ad hoc committee (overwhelmingly male, mainly white) and questioned the soundness of the report’s claims and the implications drawn from them. A group of critical students and faculty have begun to organize a committee in response to the ad hoc committee’s report.
Concurrently, tensions have recently escalated in relation to the aforementioned Mill Series. To date, my co-founder and I have put on five events. The first three were panel discussions on the questions: Are safe spaces bad for students? Is mass immigration bad for Europe? Is racism disappearing in America? On April 25, Prof. Mitchell Langbert of Brooklyn College gave a talk entitled “Political Correctness and the Liberal Arts College,” and on May 3, Prof. KC Johnson, also of Brooklyn College, presented a lecture, “Due Process in Campus Sexual Assault Cases.”
In publicizing these events, we have consistently emphasized that all viewpoints are welcome. In that spirit, we have invited professors and students of widely varying perspectives to sit on our panels and participate in our discussions. Nevertheless, the formation of the Mill Series has, unsurprisingly, provoked criticism from numerous faculty members and students. This criticism is perfectly acceptable, of course, but it is notable that none of the most outspokenly critical professors has attended a Mill Series event, in some cases despite invitations to sit on our panels and speak freely. Even more notably, after Prof. KC Johnson’s talk was scheduled, a group of Women and Gender Studies professors at Lafayette hastily organized an event that conflicted with the talk, and the president of Lafayette sent an email to the Lafayette Community publicizing and endorsing this event. My Mill Series co-founder and I, therefore, changed the date of Johnson’s talk, which went quite well.
The pursuit of truth is among Lafayette’s chartered functions and goals, and this pursuit depends on the free exchange of reasonable, conflicting ideas. To the extent that college communities misunderstand and dismiss genuine concerns about low viewpoint diversity, and to the extent that professors, students and administrators attempt to sideline controversial but careful thinkers, they do America’s students a disservice and slowly chip away at the foundation of the university and our society.
In closing, the push for greater intellectual diversity at Lafayette, although still in its infancy, appears to be gathering strength. The last two Mill Series events attracted between 50 and 60 students. The first of these events lasted well over two hours, while the second went on for nearly five. There is clearly an appetite for frank discussion of controversial, polarizing topics on the Lafayette campus, and I have been encouraged and impressed by students’ ability to contribute intelligently to these discussions, and by their willingness to challenge professors and speakers and to defend controversial viewpoints. A small but growing number of Lafayette professors, too, have either expressed support for the Mill Series and the work of the ad hoc committee, or participated in thoughtful, public email exchanges about these topics on the main faculty listserv. I hope these trends continue into next academic year.
 In the lead-up to our second event (a panel discussion on mass immigration), one Lafayette professor told me in an email that s/he and other faculty members supported student efforts to shut our “offensive, sensationalist series down” [sic]. (Nothing happened.) Since then, this professor and several others have repeatedly criticized the Mill Series, including on social media platforms.