HxA Annual Report FY2021
Opening letter from Jonathan Haidt:
When a dozen professors and I founded HxA in September 2015, we thought there was a simple but important structural problem with the American university system: For a variety of reasons, including rising political polarization and the retirement of the World War II generation, the professoriate had become somewhat politically homogeneous since the late 1990s, in a way that was impacting the quality of some research. We thought that increasing viewpoint diversity would, by itself, make things better.
Over the next four years we learned that the problem was much more complicated, and it wasn’t just about the faculty. Something had changed among the incoming undergraduate students (Gen Z), some of whom were treating books, ideas, and words as “dangerous.” The climate of fear (“walking on eggshells”) among students and professors was spreading widely, not just in the U.S. but all English-speaking countries. This new campus culture spread rapidly through many other professions, particularly journalism, media, the arts, nonprofits, tech, and K-12 education. By the end of 2019, it felt as though everything was going haywire.
And then came 2020, the most confusing and challenging year on campus since 1968. The global pandemic and sudden shift to online learning was arguably the greatest challenge to university administrators, professors, and students ever, with new and unknown risks and with vast new costs devastating budgets already stretched thin. Add to that the wave of political protests
and student activism over racial justice, a presidential impeachment followed by a presidential election like no other, and, in early 2021, an attack on the U.S. Capitol by U.S. citizens and a second presidential impeachment. By the time the spring semester ended in 2021, I think it is fair to say that the mood on campus was one of near-universal exhaustion. The one cause for hope was that vaccines would allow us to get “back to normal” in September. Well, that isn’t quite happening.
We have a chance for a Great Reset this academic year. We can return to our mission — the discovery and dissemination of truth — and the special joy and love of learning that professors and students share as they advance that mission.
That is the pleasure that drew most of us on the faculty to commit ourselves to academic careers (it certainly wasn’t the money). We have a chance this year to strip away the moralism and
the politics that seem to be invading every institution and every facet of life, and we can recommit to the ethical standards of our ancient profession.
As board chair, I am thrilled that we are welcoming our new president –– John Tomasi –– in time for this potential Great Reset. I’ve known John since the early 2010s, and he was one of the first scholars we invited to join HxA in the weeks after it was founded. I know that John shares a passion for learning and teaching, and a love of universities more generally.
Just beyond our current valley of exhaustion lies a vast plain with unlimited potential. Let’s go.
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