Chris Martin is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a co-founder of Heterodox Academy. He has a PhD in sociology from Emory University and a MA in Human-Computer Interaction from Georgia Tech.
Heterodox Academy turns one year old today. To mark the occasion, we’re publishing our members’ answers to a simple question: “What change would you like to see in universities or in your academic field by 2025?”. Our membership is politically diverse, but as you’ll see below, we have a widely shared desire to protect and restore norms of vigorous and civil disagreement. We want everyone to be able to speak up, and our members offer a variety of suggestions for strengthening freedom of inquiry and norms of good scholarship.
Sam Abrams, political science, Sarah Lawrence College
In my field of politics and government, I would very much like to see the field drop its methodological fetishism and increasingly narrow focus and return to investigating questions and problems that can be better understood with data, history, and the tools of social science.
Jonathan Anomaly, philosophy, University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill
- More flexible labor contracts, rather than the all-or-nothing choice between adjuncts and tenured faculty
- Abolition of tenure in general, or for most faculty, with institutional commitments to free speech replacing institutional commitments to retain an employee for life
- More flexibility in the mixture of research and teaching (many faculty are much better at one than the other).
- Institutional commitments to judging individuals on the basis of how interesting they are, rather than their race or gender or political views.
Karl Aquino, marketing and behavioral science, University of British Columbia, Sauder School of Business
I would like to see more faculty courageously challenging social facts generated by researchers who have a transparent political agenda and whose findings are accepted by the media and general public as being unassailable truths about the world. More broadly, I would like to see a greater willingness among faculty to ask questions either in their research or in their classrooms about why people find certain facts more persuasive, reassuring, or desirable to propagate than others.
Roy Baumeister, personality and social psychology, Florida State University
I would really like to see the end of “political correctness” in the sense that it entails suppression of free speech and free intellectual inquiry, especially mediated by vicious moral intimidation and suppression of politically unwelcome views.
Daniel Bonevac, philosophy, University of Texas—Austin
Universities: The most effective single change I would hope for is simplifying graduation requirements. At my university, I wish the requirements were “120 hours of coursework, including a major.” Full stop. Forget the area requirements, flags, etc., that turn the university into a labyrinth requiring a vast team of professional advisers to navigate. Let courses and areas sink or swim on their own, and stop the faculty’s rent-seeking.
My field (philosophy): Get back to the basic questions—What is there? How do we know? What should we do?—that are part of our common humanity and drop the politicized areas of research that tempt our best minds to subjugate their intellectual virtues to emotion and groupthink.
Bradley Campbell, sociology, California State University—Los Angeles
Is it farfetched just to hope the moral climate of American universities will be recognizable in 2025? It’s only nine years away, but four years ago I had never heard of a trigger warning or a microaggression. Almost no one had. Now demands for trigger warnings might extend to The Great Gatsby, and universities warn faculty about possible microaggressions, including such small-talk staples as asking someone “Where are you from?” and such commonplace political views as opposition to affirmative action. Elsewhere administrators and students contend against chalk, sombreros, Halloween costumes, and conservative speakers.
What we’re seeing is the rise of a new morality, one characterized by extreme sensitivity to perceived slights and by demands for authorities to do something about them. This diverges from ideals prevalent in many other settings—injunctions to be thick-skinned, to ignore insults, and to charitably interpret others’ statements. And it diverges from the ideals of the university. Ultimately, squelching free expression and debate in the name of eliminating offense won’t even work. As sensitivity to slight increases, offense-taking will abound all the more. The university will become intellectually backward and more conflict ridden than ever.
But we might avoid this fate, and some events are reassuring. Just recently, for example, the University of Chicago put out a statement decrying trigger warnings and safe spaces and committing itself to the free exchange of ideas. If others follow, the university as we’ve known it may yet survive till 2025 and beyond.
Jarret Crawford, social psychology, University of New Jersey
I would like to see two changes to my academic field of social psychology by 2025. First, I would like to see a recognition by my colleagues that it is possible that their political or social beliefs can negatively impact how they conduct their scholarship, and to see that recognition inspire them to correct themselves and their fellow social psychologists at all stages of the research process. Second, I would like to see social psychologists focus more on accurately describing or trying to predict human social behavior than on surprising or flashy but potentially fleeting findings. I am optimistic that both of these changes will come about, or at least see steady progress, as social psychologists have become more aware of these issues in the last few years, and will likely continue to do so.
Thomas Cushman, sociology, Wellesley College
In 2025, I will be an active and vigorous 66 year old professor. I would like to be able to walk into my classroom, as I did as a young man, and pursue knowledge with determinate passion and not be afraid of my students for doing so. I would like my students to be able to speak freely without being afraid of each other. I want to able to share my insights with students on the tragic dimensions of human existence without being afraid that I am traumatizing them for telling the truth about the world and the evils that human beings do in that world. I want to work with colleagues in my institution who embrace freedom of expression as the basis our intellectual progress together, in spite of our differences, rather than as a threat to their ideological orthodoxies. I want to help promote young professors who value courage over conformity—disciplinary or ideological—in their careers and I want my institution to grant them tenure for such courage. In short, I want 2025 to be a time when people are attracted to academia because they are courageous and principled, expressive rather than repressive creatures, who enjoy the life of the mind and actually live that life with the sense of exhilaration and self-actualization that comes with that life, rather than a life of quiet desperation brought on by current authoritarianism of the modern university.
James Dalziel, education, Morling College
For the field of education, by 2025 I hope it has become normal for education academics to positively acknowledge conservative ideas as part of the diversity of ideas that inform education theory and practice, and to recognise that even if many academics don’t agree with these ideas, that they have an important place in the history of education, and can make valuable contributions to current and future education. I also hope that “academic locker room talk” among education academics is less vitriolic about those who hold conservative views.
Sam Fleischacker, philosophy, University of Illinois at Chicago
I’d like to see a renewed understanding of the value of face-to-face discussion in class, at least in the humanities: that would involve a ban on cellphones in class, and a policy of requiring all other electronic instruments (laptops, etc) at least to be set aside during parts of seminars. It would also of course mean recognizing that some features of traditional “brick and mortar” classrooms are irreplaceable, that not all learning can be done online. As should be clear, I’m stressing the “face to face” part of face-to-face discussions: we are creatures built to pick up on features of other people’s expression that we can grasp only when we see them three-dimensionally, not through a glimpse at the edge of a camera’s field – and to pick up on what is going on in a group of people only when we can freely turn to view each of them in turn, and/or sense their interactions through our peripheral vision, and hearing.
Robert P. George, law, Princeton University
If I could wave a magic wand and make one change in the academy, all professors would make this pledge on the first day of classes each fall—or, at least, they would teach as though they had made this pledge:
As the new academic year approaches, I pledge the following to my students, their parents, and my fellow professors:
1) I will educate my students, never indoctrinate them.
2) When addressing controversial moral, political, and other questions, I will ensure that my students are exposed to the strongest arguments that have been advanced on the competing sides.
3) When it comes to such questions, my reading lists will include writings by the best scholars representing the various perspectives.
4) When I advocate a particular view in class, I will acknowledge that there are reasonable people of goodwill who disagree and encourage students to consider their arguments before resolving the question in their own minds.
5) I will bear in mind that my role as a teacher is not to tell my students WHAT to think, but to encourage and help them to think more carefully, critically, and for themselves.[Notes: The pledge would be voluntary—it is meant to reflect an aspiration toward impartiality. Furthermore, this pledge may not be appropriate for those teaching religious doctrine or in seminaries or other institutions devoted to the propagation of particular beliefs. But I think these are not unreasonable aspirations for professors teaching in non-religiously affiliated colleges and universities.]
Andy Grewal, law, University of Iowa
I’d like to see History Departments offering a course on “The Short-Lived Bias Reporting Systems Experiment.”
Jonathan Haidt, social psychology, New York University—Stern School of Business
2016 has been a bizarre and frightening year during which identity politics so visibly spread on the right as well as the left, in the USA as well as in Europe. Political polarization and identity politics are profound threats to multi-ethnic democracies, destroying trust and tolerance, and raising levels of political violence. I would therefore like to see my field — psychology — take the lead in studying how to turn off moral and political tribalism. We must start at home, with our own political biases. Then we must work on our neighborhood — the universities. And then we can become part of the solution, nationally, and internationally. By 2025 I hope the social sciences can offer clear and empirically validated advice on how people can live together peacefully and constructively with those whose values they reject.
Lori Cox Han, political science, Chapman University
By 2025, I would like to see more faculty members, particularly in my discipline (Political Science), check their personal partisan/ideological viewpoints at the door before they enter the classroom. Our job is to help students expand their knowledge, develop critical thinking skills, and in doing so, to present a diversity of viewpoints. Anything less than an “all views and opinions are welcome and respected” atmosphere in the classroom creates a hostile learning environment. Students do not attend class to hear a professor tell them how to think, how to vote, or that their personal belief about an issue or candidate is “wrong.” The privilege of academic freedom comes with the responsibility to treat students with respect. What better example to set in this hyper-partisan and divisive political environment than to “agree to disagree” while engaging in substantive discourse that is respectful of all opinions.
Matthew Hickey, health and exercise science, Colorado State University:
I would be delighted to see those very changes that HXA has placed front and center. The free and open exchange of ideas among faculty and students with differing viewpoints, the ability to discuss, debate, and disagree absent ad hominem nonsense, and an appreciation that the life of the mind is not meant to be “safe”, but is a life worth pursuing with integrity.
Saul Jacka, statistics, University of Warwick
A colleague who grew up in the former DDR said to me recently,” a university should be an adventure playground, not a soft play area”.
He added that he thought Erich Honecker would have welcomed modern developments in American and British universities as a further sign of the imminent collapse of the capitalist system.
Looking at Wikipedia (the modern vade mecum), I see that Adventure Park might be a more appropriate analogy. The description of current safety arrangements is particularly appealing: “Concerning the safety, traditionally a self-safety system is used where participants take responsibility for themselves. Before starting, the participants receive special training in how to use the safety equipment and then run the various trails independently” (and is it me, or does the phrasing here sound rather mitteleuropan-almost as if someone were responding to my friend ?)
Recent research suggests too consciously safe an environment is bad for your mental health and it certainly runs counter to the main purposes of a university – so the change I would like to see in universities by 2025 would be for universities to have moved to an adventure park model of operation where, after initial orientation, students assumed the main responsibility for their own “safety” and the institution provided a challenging environment in which that could tested.
Lee Jussim, social psychology, Rutgers University
As a founding member, I have been pleasantly stunned at Heterodox’s successes in so short a time. Here is what I would like to see over the next 10 years:
- Far more universities embrace the University Chicago statement to all incoming freshman on academic freedom, which I quote from here:
Once here you will discover that one of the University of Chicago’s defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression … [which] means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.
- “If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.” John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
- Social science and humanities departments, many of which have created hostile environments for scholarship contesting cherished leftwing views, will explicitly include political and intellectual diversity in their statements espousing their commitment to diversity. From my webpage for prospective graduate students:
One of the main intellectual arguments for diversity is that people from diverse backgrounds will often have different experiences and therefore different perspectives to bring to bear on solving scientific and social problems. We should make a particular point of trying to encourage and support the careers of people who actually think differently than most of us. And who might those people? Two strong contenders are political nonliberals (including centrists, libertarians, and conservatives) and people who are religious.
April Kelly-Woessner, political science, Elizabethtown College
The problem of political intolerance among America’s young people is not solely a result of the ideological imbalance in higher education. Indeed, students enter college with low levels of tolerance. Yet, as higher education claims to advance civic participation and civil discourse, we have an obligation to address the problem, even if we did not create it. In the next year, I would like to see universities reaffirm a commitment to the honest exchange of ideas. This requires an introduction to academic culture during new student orientation. It also requires a deliberate effort to seek out diversity of perspectives. The research on political tolerance shows that exposure to disagreement makes us better able to tolerate, understand, and converse with others. And isn’t that, at a minimum, what a college educated person should be able to do?
Peter Lawler, political science, Berry College
I would like to see tenured professors—especially at elite places—rise up against the increasingly intrusive and degrading accreditation process. All of higher education is being reconfigured according to the twin standards of competency and diversity—the standards of the corporate world. In both cases, the point is to squelch controversy in the service of customer relations.
The goal of competency is being pursued through the Student Learning Outcome. With every passing year, the work of faculty is being scripted by the administrator-driven “culture of assessment” empowered by the alleged imperatives of accreditation. Every professor who really knows and loves his or her job is aware that all this is a waste of time and treasure. But the accreditation association is an expression of the class-consciousness of administrators
There’s a close connection between the culture of assessment and the objectively gratuitous administrative positions it creates and the transfer of control over the curricula from “faculty governance” to administrative “strategic planning.” One result is that more and more credit hours are being generated by necessarily compliant adjuncts and other temporary instructors. Anyone who thinks there’s no cost to freedom of speech here just isn’t watching carefully.
So if you want to preserve viewpoint diversity—not only on any particular campus but in our American system of higher education as a whole—stand up against accreditation, demand that it be less intrusive, and insist that it not be a rationalization for scripting faculty and sacrificing content (and excellence) for measurable competencies.
Cristine Legare, psychology, University of Texas-Austin
The lack of socioeconomic (SES) diversity within academia presents a formidable challenge to political pluralism and the free exchange of ideas. Many aspects of the academic pipeline perpetuate the lack of SES diversity. Most academic faculty at research institutions come from highly educated, middle to high SES backgrounds. Many of the previous policies aimed at targeting this problem have had limited success. The lack of SES diversity perpetuates cultural and political homogeneity. It also limits the pool of ideas and talent from which academic discourse can draw. This needs to change.
The lack of SES diversity leaves faculty ill-prepared to dialogue with students from qualitatively different cultural backgrounds. Students from working class, rural, and conservative political backgrounds often report feeling excluded from academic dialogue. This mushrooms into an increasingly pressing problem because of the ever more polarized political climate in the modern era. Universities should be havens for promoting dialogue with students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and political viewpoints, and yet often they do just the opposite. Some, perhaps many, faculty feel the political beliefs of conservative students are incomprehensible or even immoral. As one example, academics often attribute white working class support of conservative political candidates to inferior reasoning and willful ignorance, failing to comprehend the legitimate economic and social struggles that are foreign to more privileged groups. This trend further exacerbates political division based on social class.
Academia remains an elite enterprise available primarily to those from privileged backgrounds. Greater socioeconomic diversity among faculty would promote inclusion and opportunity. It would also expand the array of ideas considered and debated—the intellectual ideal of institutions of higher learning.
Mark LeBar, philosophy, Florida State Universitiy
I would like to see a widespread (and practical) recognition in the academy of the fact that intelligent people of good will can differ on collective ends and the means to them.
Glenn Loury, economics, Brown University
Let’s stop reinforcing our students’ identity politics (that demography is not destiny should be one of the first lessons we teach). Let’s abandon reliance on identity-pedagogy (and cease to approach our students based on those crude categories of race, ethnicity and sexuality into which they’re inclined to sort themselves); and, for Heaven’s sake, can we please banish once and for all any notion of identity-epistemology (“Being” this or that is not “knowing” anything in particular, and the widely embraced notion to the contrary is a crude bid for power within academe that betrays the ideal of a reasoned pursuit of truth.
Chris Martin, sociology, Emory University
In the academy, I hope that by 2025 we find a way to have civil discussions about taboo topics instead of shying away from those areas and pouncing on people who touch on those topics. The avoidance of taboo topics hinders research. In a related vein, I hope that sociologists become more comfortable with the fact that nature is cruel. We acknowledge that nature can hurt people through natural disasters, but still jump at the idea that nature also hurts (and helps) people through genetic endowments that are deeply cruel, but that must be acknowledged. We are already making progress on this, but I hope that by 2025, people across the social sciences acknowledge the importance of genetics, and receive training to discriminate between valid and invalid genetic research.
Also, I hope that by 2025, also come up with clear standards to separate valid and spurious claims of political bias. Academics urgently need to address biases that favor progressive ideology, but they should also be able to respond to unfair accusations of political bias. Politicians worldwide are likely to refute scientific research that they find unsavory by accusing researchers of being biased, and in current U.S. politics, Republicans are likely to promote a false-equivalence narrative—they accuse journalists of bias unless those journalists reach a “balanced” conclusion about the two major parties. (Chris Mooney’s book The Republican War on Science, and Ornstein and Mann’s It’s Even Worse Than It Looks are worth reading for people who are curious about these tactics.) I hope academics are able to teach future generations how to detect political bias in research and how to recognize spurious accusations of bias.
In sociology, I would like researchers to define and operationalize the concept of merit. A great deal of sociological research attempts to debunk the idea of meritocracy, but often through negation. In other words, sociologists measure an indicator of something other than merit, like parental wealth, and they correlate that variable with a life outcome. This method is unsatisfactory. By combining indicators of skill, virtue, intelligence, or anything else that is pertinent, sociologists ought to derive a measure of merit, so we can measure how meritocratic our society is.
Robert Mather, psychology, University of Central Oklahoma
I would like to see two major changes. First, I would like to see a climate in higher education in the United States that rewards a wide range of discourse rather than restricting speech due to fears of legal liabilities and social media backlash. Second, I would like to see my own discipline (social psychology) be more open to conservative perspectives on social issues to better promote a free exchange of ideas that leads to better science. I do not want to see a social psychology overrun with any particular ideology, but rather one that puts its money where its mouth is with regard to the strengths of diversity and inclusion.
John McWhorter, linguistics, Columbia University
I hope that by 2025, the fashion of forcing speakers to be “disinvited” from college campuses is looked on as a quaint ripple from the increasingly distant past, like that vogue for Yellowtail wines in the early aughts of the 2000s. It’s a shamefully narrow-minded practice founded on a hasty, performative notion that certain leftist ideas are beyond dispute, and the conviction among its adherents that they are as ahead of the curve as Locke and Darwin are is understandable but must be rejected. College professors will hopefully start clearly and forcefully speaking out against it, since administrators are tacitly bound to avoid creating offense for public consumption. All it would take is a couple of student cohorts who never knew the practice for it to cease to be one — college generations are brief and thus cultural memory is short. A codicil would be the idea — which I have experienced often as a “controversial” speaker — that “conservative” people can only be entertained if there is someone “normal” invited to give a “response” afterward. The same conveners would never dream of having a conservative provide a “response” to the usual suspects — nor would it even occur to them that there was anything amiss in that. I assume there will always be a left-leaning bias at universities, but of late it has gone way too far.
Jonathan Murphy, psychology, Dublin Business School
In his essay ’Education as socialization and as individualization’ (1999), philosopher Richard Rorty noted that ‘administrators sometimes forget that college students badly need to find themselves in a place in which people are not ordered to a purpose, in which loose cannons are free to roll about.’ (p.125). By 2025 I’d hope to see a freer intellectual space, filled with loose cannons that inspire and intrigue the next generation of creative and conscientious, inquiring minds. To get to that place, autonomy and tenure need to return to faculty and the ‘McDonaldization’ of higher education (Parker & Jary, 1995) needs to be reversed. By 2025 I hope we’ve reclaimed education as a public good and that we defend the university as ‘a guardian of wider civic freedoms’ (Morrison, 2001). I hope we are educating students willing to ask difficult questions and entertain wicked problems; and graduating socially useful citizens, who appreciate deep diversity and seek out opportunities to challenge and be challenged. I hope by 2025 we are educating for the nuances in life rather than encouraging what William James called ‘vicious intellectualism’. To end with Rorty (1999, p.125), I hope that, ‘[t]eachers setting their own agendas — putting their individual, lovingly prepared specialties on display in the curricular cafeteria, without regard to any larger end, much less any institutional plan — is what non-vocational higher education is all about.’
Natalie Obrecht, psychology, William Paterson University
I would like to see universities implement an empirical thinking general education requirement. Most university courses are supposed to include some critical thinking component, but this is often lost in the content. For example, intro science courses tend to focus on memorizing facts, rather than on the scientific process of evaluating claims by collecting evidence and making inferences. Students should have at least one class where the sole aim is to promote actively open-minded, logical, evidence-based thinking, where argumentation is welcome and not personal.
Steven Pinker, cognitive science, Harvard
First, I’d like to see the idea of political bias in data interpretation become common knowledge among psychology researchers, a part of everyone’s basic vocabulary of methodological pitfalls, joining “replicability,” “confound,” “post hoc,” “non-significant,” and so on. Whether or not researchers avoid bias, the possibility should be at everyone’s fingertips.
Second, I’d like to see two sources of variance become common knowledge as possible explanatory factors: genetics for individual differences, and culture for group differences, joining the standard factors of how individuals and groups are treated by others (parents, majorities, and so on) as hypotheses to be considered and tested. Again, this needn’t imply that such hypotheses should be accepted, only that they be considered as possible confounds and tested empirically. One corollary is that no one should be allowed to present a correlational study on how parents treat their children and how the children turn out and conclude that parenting is causal without performing the necessary controls for genetic relatedness and hence heritability.
Paul Quirk, political science, University of British Columbia
In an environment that is often hostile to dissenting opinion, anonymity can play a useful role. I believe that in the current state of campus discourse, we need more opportunity for anonymous expression of faculty opinion. I would like to see more and better surveys of faculty members. In particular, I’d like to see campus-specific surveys of faculty opinion on issues at a given campus. In addition, I’d like to see blogs or other forums that invited anonymous submissions by bona-fide faculty members (with moderation to exclude abusive content). I think such devices could begin to change the tone of campus discourse on some issues.
Alexander Riley, sociology, Bucknell University
By 2025, first of all, what I’d like to see in my own university is me, still walking around alive and breathing. In universities more broadly, how about a more muscular and assertive movement against the Coddle U. regime that is at present expanding just about everywhere? That’d be nice. Finally, with respect to my own discipline (sociology), it would be wonderful to see even a tiny bit of evidence of the dismantling of the existing ten mile-high border wall sociologists have built over the last 75 years or so between sociology and the biological sciences, and it’d be a great thing to produce a higher percentage of PhDs who are competently conversant with basic facts and theories from evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and behavioral genetics and who recognize the indispensability of these tools for the study of human societies and human behavior. As a realist (which is not quite the same thing as a pessimist), however, I don’t expect to see these changes happen, and it’s much more likely that 2025 will see the acceleration of the plummeting of the discipline’s intellectual reputation as we continue to stubbornly ignore facts and research that make a good deal of what sociologists currently say, write, and teach nonsense at best.
Nick Rosenkranz, law, Georgetown University
There are 130 professors on the Georgetown Law faculty and the number of those who are, in any sense, to the right of center is: three. This amounts to 2.3%. The percentages are similar at most elite law schools. I know it is a lot to ask, but I hope that, in the year 2025, every top law school faculty will stop discriminating on the basis of politics and ideology, and each will have at least, say, 5% who lean right.” Here is a related article by me: Intellectual Diversity in the Legal Academy.
Howard Schwartz, organizational behavior, Oakland University
The university needs to reaffirm its identity. It needs to proclaim, as the University of Chicago has proclaimed, that it still stands for the central virtues of academic life.
Martin Seligman, psychology, University of Pennsylvania
Race-free and gender-free policies
Rick Shweder, anthropology, University of Chicago
Let Socrates Back on Campus. The University of Chicago’s Articles of Incorporation magnificently proclaim that “The basic policies of the University of Chicago include complete freedom of research and the unrestricted dissemination of information.” My hope is that long before 2025 our academic leaders, including those at the University of Chicago, will walk the walk and not just talk the talk of free inquiry.
Over the past several decades “Research Administration” has become a growth industry. University administrators have permitted mission creep in human subjects review to expand so broadly that a surveillance and licensing system for research, the Institutional Review Board (IRB) now requires permission granting for every question that might be asked of an adult. IRBs routinely insist on trigger warnings when social scientists, humanists and legal scholars engage in investigative conversations or assumption questioning interviews. Academic administrators even claim the right to instruct faculty and students not to analyze their interview data or write about them without prior approval of the questions asked.
Socrates would roll over in his grave if he knew about the hoops his heirs must jump through to gain permission to ask questions. If a faculty member or a student were to engage in an unfunded or privately funded Socratic research interview with an adult without asking for official permission from a “compliance board” he or she would be declared to have violated a homegrown University of Chicago policy, a policy for IRB review that is not mandated by federal laws (which are limited to federally funded research projects).
In other words, the censor’s hand comes from deep inside our own gates. Looking forward I hope faculties and academic leaders will begin to push back against IRB mission creep and recoil against this by now all too taken for granted way of putting Socrates on trial. At my own (beloved) university internally generated policies currently regulating Socratic research are inconsistent with the principles we wish to embrace and defend as guardians of the free inquiry tradition. Nevertheless, the recent University of Chicago declaration concerning academic freedom provides an opportunity to start a discussion aimed at ending the licensing of research that relies entirely on surveys or interviews with adults.
In the spirit of robust academic freedom, our universities should declare that the Socratic research tradition is exempt from surveillance, censorship and prior IRB review, while leaving it up to intellectually autonomous faculty and students to recognize the difference between a drug trial and a conversation, even a provocative interview on a controversial topic. This is my hope for change.
(To learn more about this topic, I recommend Zachary Schrag’s book Ethical Imperialism: Institutional Review Boards and the Social Sciences, 1965-2009.)
Alex Small, physics, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
I would like to see people in natural science and engineering fields question more carefully why our “STEM” disciplines are placed on a pedestal by so many administrators and politicians, and what the hidden intellectual costs might be when we stand on that pedestal. I’d like them to question more carefully what sorts of hidden assumptions are embedded in narratives about “STEM shortages”, what agendas are served by those narratives, and whether the narratives are supported by reliable and dispassionately-collected data. I’d like people to question whether increasing the numbers of students pushed through STEM programs is always good for the students, good for society, or good for the Academy. I’d like people to take a hard look at the sustainability of a system where basic research is mostly produced in labs staffed by students, so that if you try to increase the output of research you must also increase the output of PhDs, who then seek jobs in which they produce more research and more PhDs. Finally, I’d like to see STEM faculty with an interest in studying educational issues realize that studying people is different from studying particles, and embrace the cautious experimental methods of good psychologists, the statistical rigor of the better longitudinal studies done in the social sciences, and the lessons of historians and humanists who examine the narratives that we humans weave around our activities.
Nadine Strossen, law, New York Law School (former ACLU president)
I hope that the nurturing of diversity will encompass diversity of ideas as fully as diversity of social identities. I hope that we will make universities “safe spaces” for the equal participation of all people, no matter who they are and no matter what they believe, no matter how marginalized they might be in terms of either their social identity or their beliefs.
Sylvia Terbeck, psychology, Plymouth University
It might sound controversial, but I would like to see affirmative action phased out at my university by 2025. When universities hire a scientist, they should hire the best scientist that they can. Would you want to give an academic post, or a speaker slot, or a benefit to an individual because they are a woman? I am a woman, and I’d want to be appointed for my career success and not my sex. At a university, nothing but merit should count; not age, gender, religion or ethnicity. To promote based on other factors slows scientific progress.
Phil Tetlock, psychology and political science, University of Pennsylvania
Deeper awareness of “principle-policy slippage” in academic-freedom debates
Although it would be scientifically helpful, I don’t expect the behavioral and social sciences to become markedly less ideologically lopsided by 2025. But it is more realistic to hope that campus norms might change in the direction of greater open-mindedness. University of Chicago moments occur. I know many colleagues who agree, in principle, that students and junior faculty should not fear retribution if the senior faculty discover they hold the “wrong” views on sensitive topics. Yet, in practice, the agreement is paper thin. “Wrong” is under-defined. Few are crass enough to say it but many faculty think it: “Do we really want a “kid” in my lab who opposes abortion or supports capital punishment or wants a lower marginal tax rate or…? What next? Holocaust deniers? Jihadists?…” To be clear, I’m not claiming to know how exactly scholarly communities should define the boundaries of reasonable disagreement. But I am wary of these “what nexters.” To check principle-policy slippage, we need to call it out–and to affirm that, within a broad range, the right way to deal with deviants is to engage them, not exile them. Ideally that also means using the new tools for modeling belief systems and resolving disputes that are now emerging from cognitive science. These tools can help us get better at separating where we disagree on facts and where on values. And when the disagreements are over facts, we can learn to get better at treating our beliefs not as sacred possessions of our tribe but rather as testable propositions that we revise in response to evidence. Let’s help our students structure debates so that instead of rewarding the loudest, we reward those who can state the other side’s views sympathetically/compellingly (pass ideological Turing tests). Understanding should precede rebutting–and rebutting should (almost always) be preferred over suppressing.
Amy Wax, law, University of Pennsylvania
Some of the trends in academia that I hope will change by 2025 include: the implicit and sometimes explicit suppression inside and outside the classroom of non-liberal views through the promiscuous deployment of weaponized terms like “bigot,” “racist” “sexist” and “xenophobe,” and the indiscriminate invocation of the concept of “offensiveness.” “ Administrators and faculty should defend free speech unapologetically, and without routinely tempering those views with pleas for tolerance, diversity, and inclusion, which in this context are meant to signal that free speech is fine as long as no one feels offended or “unsafe” or “excluded.” These have become the all-purpose methods for silencing speakers and banishing ideas. Students should be taught that the proper response to an idea they don’t like is not “I’m offended but rather “I disagree because . . . “ Schools should abolish offices of diversity and inclusion, which are so mischievously productive of divisiveness, orthodoxy, bad policies, and suppression, and which contribute to the proliferation of an expensive administrative apparatus that drives up the cost of education, to the detriment of students and bill-paying parents of modest means.
Academics should stop distorting the discourse and dodging inconvenient facts by reflexively denying agency and responsibility to the people in the proliferating number of groups who are deemed to qualify for protected “victim” status. For example, even though most members of Heterodox Academy are men, the imbalance should not be regarded as ‘our fault,’ nor does it reflect any deficiency on the part of Heterodox Academy. The responsibility for any gender imbalance rests with the women who choose not to join a group dedicated to embracing and defending key academic values of free thought and inquiry and diversity of viewpoint. But is anyone, on the right or left, in academia, the media, policy, or politics, willing to come out and actually say something like this? We are now all afraid to call people to account and to assign responsibility where it belongs. We should stop running scared and pandering to the all-pervasive academic ethos of “never blame the victim,” even when the victim is not really a victim at all, but a fellow adult we believe to be engaged in misguided or self-defeating behavior.
Our high school and undergraduate education system should be overhauled to thoroughly educate all students about our historical traditions and values, and to foster a due reverence for them. Among the 90 students in my new civil procedure class this year, not a single person has read the Federalist papers, and only three have read anything by Friedrich Hayek. The ignorance of legal and constitutional history and conservative ideas fuels the academic fashion of displaying cavalier contempt for European civilization and Anglo-American culture and a distorted obsession with its crimes and shortcomings to the neglect of its myriad benisons, achievements, traditions, and accomplishments both material and moral, which have produced the most peaceful, prosperous, comfortable, free, safe, and sought-after societies the world has ever known. A professoriate that benefits so richly from living and working in the United States has the obligation to present a picture of its historical origins and values that celebrates their virtues, rather than just dwelling on vices.
John Paul Wright, criminal justice, University of Cincinnati
The change I would like to see is not a change at all, but a rekindling of the highest principles of our universities. These principles are not naïve relics of bygone years, nor are they instruments of power and oppression as some now argue. They are, instead, virtues that we can strive for, values that we can share in, and wise and sage guides for the future.
The highest calling of an academic is to pursue and to speak truth and to do so unapologetically. A healthy respect for truth and, by extension for those who seek it, has seemingly given way to the endless declarations and pronouncements of campus administrators, radical faculty, and even students. These declarations often seek to limit truth seeking and, especially, the speaking of truth. They shut down debate and conversations by injecting the evil twins of suspicion and fear into our institutional relationships. The irony, of course, is that most of these declarations emanate from offices of campus diversity and inclusion. Too often these offices contribute to an environment where, at best, truth becomes a liability, and at worse, a thing to be mocked.
What good is free speech if people are too afraid to speak? What good is academic freedom if scholars are afraid to confront thorny issues? And what purpose does a university serve if it no longer respects truth? What I hope to see is a profound reverence for truth and suspicion aimed at anyone claiming to have found it.