Recently the University of Colorado noted that political affiliation and orientation would be a protected category in the university’s nondiscrimination policy. What prompted this action were reports from conservative faculty members that their viewpoints have been stifled.
While the proposal was approved, it is remarkable that this policy had to be introduced in the first place. What it suggests is that the faculty political outlook is homogeneous allowing little room for different points of view.
Yet, to state the obvious, the essence of education is the exploration of different opinions. Some faculty members contend that anti-bias policies is a waste of time. After all, the exclusionary position of most faculty members will not change because of university reform.
In fact, if diversity of views is the goal that is more likely to come outside the academy than inside the faculty. Faculty members who share this left wing orthodoxy, in my experience, are accustomed to the present academic environment. Their self righteousness is mutually reinforcing. They are the virtuous ones and their position must not be challenged.
Whenever this argument of political bias arises university presidents invariably say “higher education is facing much bigger issues than this.” But is that true? If the free and open exchange of opinion is not possible, if propagandizing for an ideology is permitted, the purpose of education will inevitably be compromised.
This fall the University of Colorado hired its first “visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy.” The appointment was created in part to change public perception of the institution. However, while the appointment may offer legitimacy for conservative views, it is odd that an ideology of one kind is being used to counter the ideology of another.
As I see it, the issue is openness, i.e., consideration of a variety of opinions within the same classroom. The university is not designed to promote an ideology of the left or the right. Any exercise in politicizing the academy contradicts its essential mission.
After having experienced an ideological takeover since the 1960s, it is understandable that a minority of conservative faculty members would seek some protection from the herd of leftist ideologues. But history has a strange way of hoisting protagonists by their own petard. The ideologue of the right might one day be charged with intimidation and chastisement that one sees so evident on campuses across the nation today.
It is an unlikely scenario, but one serious scholars in the academy should not overlook. If there is one standard worth defending, it is a belief in academic freedom, i.e., the ability of professors to express freely their opinion in areas where there is demonstrated expertise.
This is not unlimited freedom, nor is it freedom of speech. But it is a freedom anchored in openness that allows for the expression of any political view. Should the university adhere to this standard, it is not necessary to amend the university’s policy. Nor is it appropriate to hire a conservative professor to balance the political scales. If administrators want to engender an atmosphere of fairness and openness, it makes far more sense to remind faculty members of the meaning behind academic freedom.
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