Advancing Heterodoxy

It is hard to exaggerate how homogeneous are political views in the academic world. Law professors are the most liberal category among all lawyers who are themselves quite liberal. Many precincts within the university are even further left than the legal academy. But this nation is founded on the premise that the clash of views leads to better ideas and better policy. The ideologically monochromatic cast of our academic world should thus be of concern to many, regardless of their political perspective. That is why I am so pleased that a new organization, The Heterodox Academy, has been established to try to bring in a fuller representation of a wider range of views.

As Jonathan Haidt, one of the leading professors of social psychology, said in his welcoming post:

At HeterodoxAcademy, our contributors have documented the near absence of political diversity in many fields, and we have demonstrated the damaging effects that this homogeneity has on scholarship in those fields. We are not the first to do so. Scholars have been calling to this problem for decades… and nothing has been done.

This time will be different. We have come together to pool resources, analyze current trends in the academy, discuss possible solutions, and advocate for policies and systemic changes that will increase viewpoint diversity in the academy and therefore improve the quality of work that the academy makes available to the public, and to policymakers.

Members of this venture include well-known academics, like Professor Haidt and Steven Pinker as well as more obscure ones like this writer. We have different political ideas, but all share the conviction that the academy would be much improved by more ideological and political diversity, particularly in the social sciences.

In my own view, the advantages of greater diversity would go far beyond scholarship that is better vetted and more wide-ranging in its explorations. The current round of speech codes and norms of collegiate intolerance could not survive in a more ideologically diverse academy. If there were a critical mass of conservatives, the University of California could not get away with trying to banish statements, like “America is a Land of Opportunity” from its campus. There would be a greater concern with due process for those accused of harassment of various kinds.

But we should not minimize the difficulties ahead. The academy shares some features of a social club. Professors do not earn more money by bringing in more productive or otherwise academically meritorious people into their circle. As a result, they may choose to give a substantial priority to appointing those who add to their enjoyment of the workplace by confirming their political views and sense of self-worth. Moreover, whatever its other virtues, the relentless focus on diversity with respect to race and gender tends to bring onto campus demographic groups that are likely to reinforce ideological homogeneity. But just as other institutions, like Liberty Fund and the Federalist Society, have made a difference despite what may have seemed insuperable odds at the time of their founding, so too may Heterodox Academy.