Musa al-Gharbi is a Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow in Sociology at Columbia University, and the Director of Communications at Heterodox Academy.
I became involved with Heterodox Academy in the fall of 2016, shortly after its first anniversary.
Since then, I’ve written a number of posts for the blog, been interviewed by Chris Martin for Half-Hour of Heterodoxy, published extensively in external outlets on issues central to HxA’s mission and mandate (for instance here, here, here, here), and helped others to do the same. I’ve published articles in peer-reviewed academic journals about the importance of cognitive pluralism and viewpoint diversity (here, here), and have grown increasingly involved in HxA’s broader engagement strategy as well.
This is a passion project of mine because, as a social scientist, I am deeply concerned about the ideological homogeneity and insularity of many social research fields (including my own, sociology): these tendencies undermine the reliability, credibility and impact of the work we do – and this has significant and adverse consequences for the populations and causes we are ostensibly hoping to serve.
Given these convictions, it is an honor and pleasure to formally announce that I have been appointed as Heterodox Academy’s new Director of Communications. I will serve as the primary point of contact between HxA and the public — to include with the media, and on social media — and oversee our content strategy for the blog, podcast and beyond.
A New Direction
Over the last couple months, as I’ve transitioned into this role, longtime readers may have already noticed a difference in our social media engagement, the content we’ve released, and in how we present that content on the website. More changes will be coming, based on our strategic priorities for 2018 (spearheaded by our Executive Director, Deb Mashek), alongside feedback from our April/May 2018 member survey.
As many of you know, HxA actually began as a blog: a couple dozen concerned academics highlighting the lack of viewpoint diversity in their respective fields, and the ways it undermines research.
Today, there is widespread awareness of the lack of viewpoint diversity, constructive disagreement and mutual understanding within institutions of higher learning — and a growing consensus that something must be done about it. Our 2100+ members are determined to be part of the solution; our latest internal survey shows that our faculty, grad students and administrators are eager to tangibly improve their fields and institutions — to operationalize the commitments they endorsed when they joined. We want to help them achieve this goal, and are adjusting our content accordingly:
The member survey, and our site traffic, suggested that people wanted less op-ed style musings on the academy and its problems, and more primary research on the nature, scope and dynamics of those problems – plus tools and techniques to meaningfully address them.
After all, there are already many other sites where academics can ruminate on the academy (The Chronicle of Higher Education, Times Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, The Conversation, The Guardian Higher Education Network, etc.). We have decided to leverage our network and capabilities in ways that are less redundant, and have rolled out new submission guidelines which emphasize the kind of content we’ll be looking for going forward.
Of course, many of our authors (myself included!) will continue to write and publish op-ed style pieces – and encourage more of our members to do the same. However, these essays will primarily be published in external outlets rather than the blog. In addition to reflecting the apparent preferences of our members, this is likely the best strategic move as well:
Most of the op-ed style essays published on our blog were oriented towards convincing skeptics about the reality and significance of the problem – yet by publishing these essays on the HxA blog, members were largely “preaching to the choir” — this is literally the one thing that we all agree on:
To the extent that essays like these are placed in other outlets going forward, they will likely reach a larger and more divided audience — and therefore, have more impact – than if we ran them on the blog.
That said, we will continue to share relevant op-ed content from external outlets on our social media feeds (follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn), in the new “Recommended Reading” sidebar of our blog, and in our weekly email bulletins.
However, we will not be publishing much op-ed style content ourselves anymore — nor will we be publishing posts excerpting this kind of content from other outlets, as we have done in the past (indeed, those posts have been stripped away to improve ease of navigation). The blog will be tightly focused on delivering original, substantive content — by and for university stakeholders — to help understand and address the lack of viewpoint diversity, mutual understanding and constructive disagreement within institutions of higher learning.
In concluding, I should mention that Heterodox Academy is also recruiting a Director of Membership and Partnerships to help our members better communicate with one another (and with us!). It will likely be an early priority of this new hire to wrap their heads around the preferences and needs of our members through a new member survey. This will be a perfect chance to weigh in on our current content strategy, and to propose ideas for the future – particularly for new members, or those who otherwise missed out on our last member survey. Not a member? This is a perfect moment to join as a faculty, grad student or professional affiliate! Not eligible to join? Share your thoughts in the comments below.