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THE PROBLEM

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To make headway on solving the world’s most complex problems, scholars and policy makers must deploy the best ideas, regardless of where those ideas originate.

For simple problems or fully resolved technical matters there is little need for viewpoint diversity. Sometimes there is just one answer, or just one way to approach a problem. But for “wicked problems” — those that can be framed in multiple ways and that may trigger passions or partisan motivations–viewpoint diversity is essential.

The surest sign that a community suffers from a deficit of viewpoint diversity is the presence of orthodoxy, most readily apparent when members fear shame, ostracism, or any other form of social retaliation for questioning or challenging a commonly held idea.In these contexts, it is likely that the dominant idea is not entirely correct because it is protected from challenge and change. If, however, the response to dissent is civil discussion and evidence-based argument, then the community does not suffer from
orthodoxy.

The question, then, is whether colleges and universities welcome and celebrate viewpoint diversity. While some individual institutions do (see our Guide to Colleges), many American universities are typified by an ideological monoculture.

Do you think students are “walking on eggshells” in the classroom and on-campus?  Administer our Campus Expression Survey to find out.

For example, as the graph shows, in the 15 years between 1995 and 2010, the American academy went from leaning left to being almost entirely on the left. Similar trends and problems are occurring in the UK and Canada, and to a lesser extent in Australia.

Data from Higher Education Research Institute, based on a survey of college faculty conducted every other year since 1989. Plotted by HxA member Sam Abrams of Sarah Lawrence College.

What is Viewpoint Diversity ?

Viewpoint diversity refers to the state of a community or group in which members approach questions or problems from multiple perspectives. When a community is marked by intellectual humility, empathy, trust, and curiosity, viewpoint diversity gives rise to engaged and civil debate, constructive disagreement, and shared progress towards truth. Viewpoint diversity enables colleges and universities to realize their twin goals of producing the best research and providing the best education.

Ideological Diversity on Campus

Ideological frameworks, including political orientation, powerfully inform the assumptions scholars and professors make, the questions they ask, the outcomes they value, and the way they interpret their data and their world.

When campuses don’t include ideologically diverse voices and don’t engage seriously with dissenting ideas, students and scholars miss the opportunity for their thinking to be challenged. They don’t get the chance to figure out which ideas hold up within the crucible of open inquiry. Biases go unchecked. Critical thinking is abandoned.

A lack of viewpoint diversity on campus undermines the academy’s ability to realize the goals of scholarly inquiry and education. Instead, research and learning spaces become self-affirming echo chambers in which ideological validation displaces critical inquiry.

There is strong consensus in the academic world that many forms of diversity are important. Thinking and scholarship are enhanced when we bring diverse viewpoints to bear on our most pressing issues. Heterodox Academy has made this the core of its mission and motivation. The academic world must welcome and celebrate viewpoint diversity if it is to function properly, produce reliable research, and prepare students to solve challenging problems.

Heterodox Academy is dedicated to improving research and education in universities by increasing viewpoint diversity, mutual understanding, and constructive disagreement. We achieve this mission by informing national conversations about higher education with original research and perspectives, building a community of scholars interested in advancing the ideals of open inquiry, and providing tools to faculty members and administrators who wish to make change in their local contexts.

Working together, we can advance viewpoint diversity in the academy.

To learn more,
please visit
our library and the HxA blog