“I believe that university life requires that people with diverse viewpoints and perspectives encounter each other in an environment where they feel free to speak up and challenge each other. I am concerned that many academic ﬁelds and universities currently lack sufﬁcient viewpoint diversity. I support viewpoint diversity, mutual understanding, and constructive disagreement in my academic ﬁeld, my institution, my department, and my classroom.”
Research on the lack of ideological diversity among academics — and how it undermines research and policymaking — began in the field of psychology during the mid 60s and early 70s (e.g. McClintok, Spaulding & Turner 1965; Janis 1972; Abramowitz, Gomez & Abramowitz 1975) and has remained a topic of research and discussion within the discipline since (e.g. Ceci, Peters & Plotkin 1985; Tetlock 1992; Redding 2001).
Drawing on this tradition, and responding to contemporary trends and challenges in his field, Jonathan Haidt delivered a provocative 2011 address to the annual convention for the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, entitled “The Bright Future of Post-Partisan Social Psychology.”
The talk generated immense conversation and debate within psychology and beyond — eventually culminating with a 2014 paper in Behavioral and Brain Sciences which Haidt co-authored with psychologists Jose Duarte, Jarrett Crawford, Lee Jussim, Phil Tetlock and sociologist Charlotta Stern, arguing “Political Diversity Will Improve Psychological Science.”
Incidentally, the same year that essay was published, a sociologist (Chris Martin) and a law professor (Nick Rosenkrantz) published independent-but-roughly-contemporaneous papers about how ideological homogeneity and insularity were undermining work in their respective fields. After discovering each-other’s essays, the scholars started corresponding and decided: rather than trying to tackle this problem independently in psychology, sociology and law they should pool their resources and efforts to improve the quality and impact of social research more broadly. Heterodox Academy was born.
The website and blog were launched in September of 2015 as a venue for social researchers to talk about their work and the open inquiry and viewpoint diversity challenges facing their disciplines and institutions. Initial membership was restricted to tenured professors in order to establish a network of peers who could provide cover for junior faculty, who were admitted beginning in the summer of 2016.
Heterodox Academy’s inaugural year was trying. Universities across the country were rocked by student protests in the Fall 2015 and Spring 2016 semesters. Although the 2014-5 academic year had also witnessed a significant uptick in student activism, the tone and tactics of demonstrators seemed to be growing much more aggressive, intolerant and uncompromising – exemplified by the clashes at Mizzou, Yale and beyond.
The situation deteriorated further as the 2016 election cycle got underway: the increasingly toxic turn in U.S. civic culture and political discourse permeated institutions of higher learning, and also polarized public perceptions about colleges and universities: There was a sharp rise in faculty fired for political speech-related issues. There were campaigns to troll and provoke student activists by inviting inflammatory figures to campus. Too often, organizers got the reactions they were looking for — leading to more notoriety, and invitations to more campuses, for these speakers. Disinvitations spiked to record levels. There were high-profile altercations at Middlebury, Evergreen, Berkeley and other schools. This cycle of provocation, overreaction and escalation continued for nearly two years — culminating with the killing of Heather Heyer in the aftermath of clashes at UVA.
The HxA blog increasingly became a venue for concerned scholars to try to work through what was happening, its causes and implications. However, as an organization, we were committed to going beyond anecdotal incidents and rising above reactionary takes. We set out to more systematically study the apparent changes in campus culture – and developed tools (Guide to Colleges, Campus Expression Survey, OpenMind), resources (All Minus One) and launched a podcast (Half Hour of Heterodoxy) to help others better understand and address the tensions roiling campuses.
In the process, we expanded our mission – increasingly focusing on pedagogy as well as research – and emphasizing constructive disagreement alongside viewpoint diversity and open inquiry. In an effort to enlist a broader range of university stakeholders in the process of reform, we also opened up membership to graduate students and university professionals such as administrators and counselors.
Throughout, Heterodox Academy has remained relentlessly committed to collecting, disseminating and analyzing data. We have insisted on providing tools and resources to the public 100% free of charge. We have maintained our integrity as a non-partisan collaborative of academic insiders committed to the flourishing of universities and the research enterprise. As a result, we have seen immense growth in our public profile, membership and donations – enabling us to evolve and expand even further.
Heterodox Academy hired its first executive director, Debra Mashek, in January 2018. Under her leadership, we have expanded our executive team and launched a number of exciting reforms and new initiatives:
Although colleges and universities continue to face many significant challenges with regards to improving research and pedagogy — and enhancing public trust in scholarship and expertise — we are increasingly confident that faculty, staff, students and other university stakeholders will rise to the occasion. We encourage you to join or support our efforts to promote open inquiry, viewpoint diversity and constructive disagreement in institutions of higher learning.
We aspire to help create college classrooms and campuses that welcome diverse people with diverse viewpoints and that equip learners with the habits of heart and mind to engage that diversity in open inquiry and constructive disagreement. We see an academy eager to welcome professors, students, and speakers who approach problems and questions from different points of view, explicitly valuing the role such diversity plays in advancing the pursuit of knowledge, discovery, growth and innovation.
Our of Board of Directors serves as guardian of our mission, ensures financial sustainability, and prudent governance.
Jonathan Haidt (Board Chair), New York University
Jeffrey S. Flier, Former Dean, Harvard Medical School
Steven Laub, CEO, Atmel Corporation (retd)
Kathleen O’Connor, The Asness Family Foundation
Joel Winton, The Paul E. Singer Foundation
Zachary R. Wood, TED
We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with others who wish to contribute their time and talents to advance the mission of Heterodox Academy. Please contact us at Questions@heterodoxacademy.org to get involved!