Dear members and supporters of HxA,
You may be aware that an article was published last week critical of Heterodox Academy (HxA): Four Reasons Why Heterodox Academy Failed. Public organizations are, of course, open to criticism. This article in particular, however, makes sweeping assertions of our organization that are based on a false understanding of HxA and its mission. Therefore, we view the criticism as an opportunity to clarify some important points about HxA and its work.
The author of the article, Nathan Cofnas, a philosopher at the University of Cambridge, asserts that HxA has failed in the fight against “wokeness” because the organization has become another leftist club, doesn’t leverage political power, takes an approach that differs from other organizations, and has not elevated inquiry of genetic race differences (what he deems “the most important topic” given that, in his perspective, wokeness is at its core based on the idea that disparities among groups are due to discrimination only).
HxA was founded to promote heterodoxy in the academy in response to an increase in ideological homogeneity in research and teaching. Although modern “wokeness” may overlap with the idea of ideological homogeneity in some respects, HxA was not founded as an explicit “anti-wokeness” organization. In fact, we are not an anti-anything organization. Rather, we are a movement for improving the academy by advocating for principles of viewpoint diversity, open inquiry, and constructive disagreement. Cofnas’ critiques of HxA are therefore based on a false understanding of HxA’s mission.
Cofnas’ critique additionally implies that HxA denied membership to a scholar in 2017 based on their topic of scholarly inquiry. This is incorrect. HxA denied membership to a scholar in 2017 based on the membership criteria in place at the time that stated applicants “must have no association with racist or other hate groups.” That year an applicant was deemed to be associated with such a group, and on that basis—not because of the topic of their research—they were denied membership.
We support heterodoxy in research because rigorous, open, and responsible engagement across lines of difference is essential to separate good ideas from bad, and to make good ideas better. We support scholars in their pursuit of evidence-based lines of inquiry. Our purpose as an organization is to cultivate positive culture change on campus through promoting the principles of viewpoint diversity, open inquiry, and constructive disagreement.
HxA is a nonpartisan organization with a politically diverse membership: 14% of our members identify as right/conservative, 17% identify as left/progressive, with the remainder identifying from center-left to center-right. We are not a political movement to press change through state and federal legislation. Legally, we cannot be: As a 501c3 nonprofit, we are legally barred from advocating for political candidates, political parties, or legislation.
Our approach will necessarily be a long-game, activating members from inside of the academy, for sustained culture change. The respective roles of voluntarism and coercion in the process of cultural formation is a classic problem with the theory of social change. I will not pretend that HxA has solved that strategic riddle. But at HxA, our theory of change is a living, evolving theory of practice.
The last year of HxA has been one of transition and maturation as we have reorganized our team and the focus of our activities. We take as valid criticism that this transitory period has resulted in less frequent and visible activity from us as an organization. That is quickly changing, and our impact will continue to grow. We launched the Campus Community Network in January. We are opening The Center for Academic Pluralism in NYC this summer. We are working to expand our membership to broaden our impact across campuses. We are gearing up for a major Heterodoxy in STEM event later this year, and will continue to expand our areas of focus within the academy.
HxA remains an organization committed to sustained, long-term culture change within the academy. Our work will focus on activating our members to improve education and research by advocating for our core principles. We are proud to have you as a supporter and are grateful for your commitment to our mission.