2019 Open Inquiry Awards Winners
Institutional Excellence Award
For the college or university – or center or institute operating as part of a college or university – that has done the most to advance or sustain open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement either on its own campus or nationally.
Claremont McKenna College
Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, there was a marked uptick in protests and unrest in universities nationwide. Over the next few years, they escalated into a series of high-profile demonstrations and clashes – often leading to shoutdowns, disinvitations, firings and resignations. Elite schools were hit the worst. Claremont McKenna College (CMC) was not immune. What set CMC apart was how the community rose to meet these challenges.In 2019, CMC launched a new initiative, The Open Academy, to help students develop the intellectual and social skills needed to express themselves, debate with respect, and listen actively. The scale of this investment is perhaps unprecedented: $20 million dollars over 10-years, with multiple institutional components to inform campus culture in deep and enduring ways.
Thanks to a significant grant from the Mellon Foundation, professors from different ideological vantage points co-teach courses at CMC, providing students with models for—and practice at—developing a common understanding of critical issues.
The university hosts over 100 speakers each year at its Athenaeum, the campus hub for intellectual engagement. They are one of the only liberal arts colleges in the country to earn a “green light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) – indicating an absence of policies threatening free expression on campus – and they are among the only schools of any kind in the state of California to achieve that rating (alongside UCLA).
By foregrounding the ways freedom of expression, viewpoint diversity, and effective dialogue support students’ educational and developmental needs, these commitments from CMC mark a critical inflection point in the open inquiry movement. The college has moved the conversation from reaction to intention, beyond “What’s wrong?” to “Why does it matter, for students, the academic enterprise, and the country?” and “How do we fix it?”
CMC has long been known for its demanding curriculum, and for its graduates’ outstanding return on their educational investments. Under the leadership of President Hiram Chodosh, CMC has also emerged as an exemplar for viewpoint diversity, open inquiry and constructive disagreement.
Awarded to a person or group that has shown exceptional leadership in championing open inquiry, viewpoint diversity and constructive disagreement in the academy and beyond.
Jonathan Zimmerman is Professor of Education and History at the University of Pennsylvania. His research explores the politics around education and, especially, how controversial issues are taught. Given this focus, it is perhaps no surprise that Professor Zimmerman was one of the founding members of Heterodox Academy. Indeed, he was featured in the very first episode of our podcast, Half Hour of Heterodoxy. However, professor Zimmerman was an advocate for viewpoint diversity and academic freedom well before the establishment of Heterodox Academy.
Throughout his career, he has defended colleagues who have come under attack – whether by external forces, students or administrators – irrespective of their politics. In the classroom, he asks his students tough and provocative questions, and expects them to become historically and scientifically literate about the issues in order to answer those questions with sufficient depth, nuance and clarity.
Beyond the classroom, he has worked with Common Party to bring together students across institutional and political lines to better understand and engage with one-another in good faith – particularly with regards to divisive political and moral issues.
Professor Zimmerman also works to bridge the growing divides between institutions of higher learning and the communities they serve. He is consistently featured as one of the most influential education scholars in terms of educational practice and policy (see: RHSU’s Edu-Scholar Public Influence rankings) – and regularly advocates for academic freedom and viewpoint diversity in public-facing outlets and public talks.
In short, Jonathan Zimmerman is the complete package. On every front — research, teaching, institutional advocacy, public engagement – he is an exemplar for how to effectively promote open inquiry, viewpoint diversity and constructive disagreement.
Awarded to individuals who have shown consistent courage in pursuing truth despite social and professional costs.
Many professors who are conservative, libertarian, or who otherwise hold views that challenge the prevailing institutional ethos attempt to conceal their ideological leanings. They often avoid work on controversial topics to minimize the risk of drawing the ire of students or colleagues.
In contrast, Dr. Abrams has virtually always been “out” as a Republican. Rather than avoiding contentious topics, he works in political science – and has been particularly influential in his critiques of orthodoxies surrounding polarization.
He introduces his students to a gamut of political and ideological perspectives in the classroom. A founding member of Heterodox Academy, Dr. Abrams also regularly engages the public on the need for viewpoint diversity, open inquiry and constructive disagreement within institutions of higher learning.
In October 2018, he published an essay in the New York Times about the severe political imbalance among university administrators (which is even larger than the left skew among professors). In order to illustrate how this political homogeneity plays out ‘on the ground,’ Dr. Abrams cited some examples of programming at his own college, Sarah Lawrence.
In response, a contingent of students at his school – egged on by certain faculty and administrators – called for Dr. Abrams to be ousted from his post. In addition to demonstrations, his office was vandalized. There were harassment and intimidation campaigns. University leadership initially neglected to condemn these acts, and instead aligned themselves with the protestors – insinuating that Dr. Abrams had done something wrong in conducting his research or publishing his op-ed. His university president privately suggested to him that he should seek out alternative employment. Responding to these institutional signals, student activists have continued their agitations, recently demanding that Dr. Abrams’ tenure be put up for review.
Regrettably, Dr. Abrams is far from alone in facing retaliation for research or public-facing work that challenges someone’s deeply-held views. What sets Dr. Abrams apart is how he has chosen to respond to his situation. Many who have found themselves in similar circumstances chose to exit the academy. The experience of colleagues, students and university leadership turning against you, or failing to support you, can lead to deep resentment, which can curdle into reactionary politics – leading some who have been on the receiving end of these campaigns to subsequently bash students, professors, administrators, the left, and even the academic enterprise more broadly – and to align themselves with others who do the same.
Dr. Abrams, however, refuses simply disappear, or to cede his institution to opponents of open inquiry and viewpoint diversity. Nor does he allow illiberal actors define the academy – neither for himself nor the public. Instead, Dr. Abrams remains as committed as ever to highlighting positive developments, identifying exemplars, and formulating constructive and data-driven approaches to the challenges universities face. Responding to unjust treatment with this kind of grace requires a level of courage and moral conviction that we desperately need more of within institutions of higher learning – and indeed our society more broadly.
Selected media publications and scholarly essays by Samuel Abrams can be found here.
Exceptional Scholarship Award
Awarded to an academic who, through research or another form of scholarship, has greatly contributed to understanding of open inquiry, viewpoint diversity and constructive disagreement.
Keith Whittington is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics at Princeton University. His recent book, “Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech”, makes the case for why freedom of expression is integral to what universities are, and the roles they are supposed to play in our society – informed by an understanding of both history and our current circumstances.
The fundamental mission of the university, he argues, is to advance and disseminate knowledge. Consequently, the ultimate goal of a university community must be to “foster an environment in which competing perspectives can be laid bare, heard, and assessed.” In such a community, “unorthodox, controversial, and even wild-eyed professors” should be valued, and regarded as signs of institutional health, rather than being subject to harassment, intimidation or formal sanction – or held up as a sign of what’s wrong with higher education.
Dr. Whittington won the Association of American Publishers’ PROSE (Professional and Scholarly Excellence) Award for Education for Speak Freely. Princeton University’s president, Christopher Eisgruber, assigned the book as a pre-read for all incoming freshman. Copies were also provided, free of charge, to all Princeton undergraduates, graduates and faculty members. Since the publication of the book, Dr. Whittington has taken its message on the road, giving talks at universities nationwide on the importance of free expression for the university, and for society at large. He has also made his case in public-facing forums including Chronicle of Higher Education, Aeon, and Reason.
Additionally, over the last year, Dr. Whittington has published scholarly articles exploring the value and limitations of academic speech in Fordham Law Review, Academe, and in an edited volume by Routledge.
Selected media publications, scholarly essays and books by Keith Whittington are available here.
Outstanding Student Group Award
Awarded to a student group for making a particularly vital and durable contribution to open inquiry, viewpoint diversity and constructive disagreement on their campus and beyond.
Linn-Benton Community College (LBCC) Civil Discourse Club
Much of the public discussion about higher education is centered on elite private colleges, or Ivy League and other R1 universities. Yet, while these schools talk a lot about diversity and inclusion, community colleges walk the walk – providing high-quality, affordable, accessible education to populations that are under-represented and under-served by other schools: low-income students, students of color, military veterans, students from rural areas and small towns, lifelong learners, and other ‘non-traditional’ students.
Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that community colleges also tend to be far ahead of many other schools with regards to respecting and encouraging open inquiry, viewpoint diversity and constructive disagreement. As we highlighted in our June 2019 Reason Magazine feature, Linn-Benton Community College (LBCC) stands out even among community colleges.
The LBCC’s Civil Discourse Club was formed in November 2017, advised by communications faculty (and Heterodox Academy) member Mark Urista. The club aims to promote dialogue that enhances understanding among individuals with diverse viewpoints in an open and respectful environment.
To this end they have put on campus debates, group discussions about controversial topics and even town hall meetings with U.S. senators. They have facilitated Free Intelligent Conversation events in their local community, hosted TED speakers and Village Square events. They manage a campus Civil Discourse Wall. They even provide civil discourse training to others in their college community. As a testament to their effectiveness, the LBCC Civil Discourse Club was awarded full-chapter status as part of Bridge USA; they are the first (and so far exclusive) community college branch of the organization.
As members of the LBCC Civil Discourse Club graduate, some transfer to nearby 4-year institutions, and have demonstrated an eagerness and ability to propagate the Club’s vision and values at other colleges and universities too.
The levels of commitment, ambition, and innovation demonstrated by the Linn-Benton Community College Civil Discourse Club are truly extraordinary — and a model for students and faculty at other colleges and universities nationwide.
Outstanding Student Award
Awarded to an undergrad or graduate student for making a particularly vital contribution to open inquiry, viewpoint diversity or constructive disagreement on their campus or beyond.
Coleman has moderated and headlined numerous events about open inquiry and viewpoint diversity. He has been a guest on major podcasts, including “The Good Fight” (Yascha Mounk/Slate), “The Fifth Column” (Kmele Foster), “Exploring Minds” (Michele Carroll), “Making Sense” (Sam Harris), “The Loury Show” (Bloggingheads) and “The Reason Podcast.” He is a columnist at Quillette; his work has also been published in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Spectator, National Review, City Journal and beyond.
This is an impressive resume for any public intellectual. However, Coleman accomplished all of this in less than two years, and while pursuing an undergraduate degree in philosophy at Columbia University.
The secret to Coleman’s success lies in his analytical acuity (he is brilliant), but also his temperament: he is fair-minded and intellectually humble – yet manages to exude self-confidence and composure well beyond his years. He fearlessly challenges orthodoxies and unapologetically violates taboos – not simply for the sake of doing so (he is no provocateur), but to follow the truth wherever it leads. He transgresses ideological and partisan lines without care and — perhaps most astonishingly in today’s public sphere — changes his mind about things if the facts seem to point in the other direction.
In these regards, Coleman serves as an exemplar not just for his fellow students or aspiring public intellectuals, but for all of us. Heterodox Academy has the distinct honor of having published Coleman’s very first public-facing essay, “A Tale of Two Columbia Classes,” in January 2018. We have been blown away with all that he has accomplished since then, and we cannot wait to see what he has in store for us next.
And as a side note, in case you weren’t impressed enough yet, Coleman is also a world-class musician who has played with Rihanna (at the MTV Video Music Awards, no less), John Mayer and others. He is truly an embodiment of heterodoxy!