While a community of inquiry defined by intellectual humility, curiosity, empathy, and trust may hold many beliefs in common, few ideas will be beyond discussion, revision, or good-faith debate.
The surest sign of an unhealthy scholarly culture is the presence of orthodoxy. Orthodoxies are most readily apparent when people fear shame, ostracism, or any other form of social or professional retaliation for questioning or challenging a commonly held idea.
The best way to defend against orthodoxies — or to neutralize them — is to foster commitment to open inquiry, viewpoint diversity and constructive disagreement.
When these elements are missing, orthodoxies can take root and thrive.
In an environment that is insufficiently open, facts can be corrupted or suppressed for the benefit of special interests. Important innovations can be set back or outright snuffed out. Avoidable problems can fester and spread. Personal and intellectual growth can be stunted.
And in many fields, Gender.
When environments lack sufficient viewpoint diversity, problematic assumptions can go unchallenged, promising ideas and methods can go underexplored, and it can be difficult to effectively understand or engage with others who have different backgrounds, priors and commitments.
For instance, to the extent that institutions of higher learning lack viewpoint diversity (and are thus not representative of the broader societies in which they are embedded), scholars may struggle to communicate the value and relevance of their work to people outside the academy in an accessible and compelling way. Well-intentioned social programs can fail in their stated aims — or even cause harm — when the people designing policies are too far removed from the populations their interventions are intended to serve. Meanwhile, young people from underrepresented groups may come to feel as though they don’t belong in the academy — and decline to apply to college, drop out midway through, or pursue non-academic paths if they push through to graduation.
In short, we would have reasons to recruit and retain a more diverse pool of faculty, staff and students even if the lack of viewpoint diversity was purely the result of differences in interests and priorities among members of various groups. However, we know that many disparities are also — at least in part — the result of a hostile atmosphere, discrimination, a lack of access or institutional dynamics that tend to privilege certain groups for reasons other than the quality of their research or ideas. It seems important to rectify these imbalances for moral as well as practical reasons.
When people lack the skill or the will to disagree constructively, disputes about theories, methods, data, analysis,or solutions can take on the character of zero-sum power struggles rather than opportunities for mutual growth and discovery. People become more polarized and closed-minded. They grow less likely to share and cooperate, and more likely to withhold key information, or engage in bad-faith for competitive advantage. Mistakes and failures are more likely to be weaponized against scholars rather than being understood as an unavoidable part of the iterative process of exploration, trial, error, discovery and revision that lies at the core of the scientific method. People grow less likely to take risks or tolerate uncertainty. Under these circumstances, increased diversity can become a liability — a source of additional paranoia and strife — rather than an asset.