• Thu. Jun 23rd, 2022

Youngkin has the right to advance ideological diversity on campus – Daily Press

ByDebra J. Aguilar

Jun 11, 2022

In May, Governor Glenn Youngkin sent the Council of Presidents of Virginia Public Colleges and Universities a detailed letter state their expectations. Among his most pressing demands is that university administrators promote intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas. This includes a bold and long-awaited reform: hiring professors of diverse political persuasions.

Amid growing public discontent with the politicization of higher education, Youngkin is right to pull higher education out of its complacency.

In response to Youngkin’s letter, the Richmond Times-Dispatch quotes a prominent University of Virginia professor who asks, “What’s the problem? This professor might consider speaking with U.Va. emma main camp. His March New York Times opinion piece deplored the culture of self-censorship on the ground. Undergraduates are afraid to debate ideas, Camp wrote, because they fear criticism from their peers and professors. When they voice unpopular views, they face not good faith arguments, but personal and social condemnation. As a result, the university fails to fulfill its mission of promoting free inquiry and the search for truth.

Ten days after Camp’s editorial was published, the student editorial board of U.Va.’s campus newspaper, the Cavalier Daily, called on the university to bar former Vice President Mike Pence from speak in the field. Fortunately, the university could not and did not give in to this request. But what is U.Va. teach if some of its brightest students find it acceptable to ostracize a former campus vice president?

If you think the problems with campus culture are mostly the fault of a few student activists, think again. It is the teachers and administrators who bear the responsibility for our current situation. As Camp observes, college instructors too often foster a classroom environment in which students feel the need to self-censor.

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We know this to be true at the University of Virginia where only 30% of students recently interviewed responded that they were ‘very’ (4%) or ‘somewhat comfortable’ (26%) with ‘publicly disagreeing with a professor on a controversial topic’. No wonder 60% of U.Va. students say it can be difficult to have an “open and honest conversation” about a topic such as racial inequality.

A major source of these problems is a massive and growing ideological imbalance in university faculties. Our organizations studied the imbalance at Virginia’s flagship public university using publicly available FEC donor records. Since 2012, nearly 97% of all political donations made by University of Virginia faculty have gone to Democratic candidates and PACs.

This situation gives the progressive point of view a false aura of infallibility. Academic progressives who do not have to defend their ideas against live skeptics have no incentive to moderate their positions and therefore take increasingly radical viewpoints. When professors on the left do not have conservative colleagues, they are likely to accept caricatures of conservatism as accurate. They call the Conservatives idiots or fanatics. And they pass on their misconceptions to their students, magnifying our public dialogue.

If Virginia’s public universities recruit more conservative and independent-minded faculty, they will take an important step toward creating a truly free-thinking culture on campus. Through their teaching, these professors can encourage their students and colleagues to consider the best arguments from all sides in political debates.

Right now, the valiant taxpayers of Virginia fund the state’s ideologically unbalanced public universities to the tune of more than $2.3 billion a year. On their behalf, Youngkin raised a matter of paramount importance. What will university administrators do to actualize the diversity of viewpoints?

With the state budget still unsigned, Youngkin and Education Secretary Aimee Guidera have a rare and welcome opportunity to ensure that public universities begin to take the intellectual diversity of faculty seriously. Every public university in Virginia must commit to action.

Michel Poliakoff is president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni in Oakton. Stone Wood is president of the National Association of Scholars in New York.