Reject ideological uniformity on college campuses and at Brandeis
Last semester, protests and rallies against racial inequity pervaded university campuses across the nation. At Brandeis, the Ford Hall 2015 movement demanded — among other things — that the University admit more students of color, hire more faculty of color and require yearly diversity and inclusion workshops for all members of the staff and faculty.
Brandeis addressed diversity once more this past weekend at a student-organized University conference entitled “Diversity: America from Within,” which “aim[ed] to foster multifaceted discussions that incorporate[d] but [were] not limited to the influence of race, gender, and background,” according to its mission statement.
Not a single one of the conference’s 21 workshops, however, discussed one of the most important strands of diversity: ideological diversity. How can Brandeis, a campus dominated by one side of the ideological spectrum, pride itself on its commitment to true diversity if it ignores this critical facet?
In theory, diversity of race and background should engender diversity of ideas. According to the Brandeis website, as of Fall 2014, 18 percent of undergraduates were international students and 51 percent self-identified as non-white. Yet regardless of diversification efforts at other universities and here at Brandeis, students of higher education and Brandeis remain overwhelmingly liberal.
In the Panetta Institute for Public Policy’s 2015 spring survey, forty-nine percent of students enrolled in four-year colleges and universities in the United States identify as Democrats or leaning Democratic, while just 26 percent describe themselves as Republicans.
A similar rigidity exists in the ideological leanings of faculty members, a phenomenon that has worsened in recent years. The professoriate of higher education has been shifting dramatically left for decades, according to a 2004 New York Times article. One survey revealed that the current average ratio of Democratic faculty to their Republican counterparts of 7 to 1 is more than twice what it was three decades ago. The American Enterprise Institute also reported that in humanities and social science departments, conservative professors constitute only five percent of faculty.
As a liberal arts institution in arguably the most liberal state in the country, it’s no secret that the political left also dominates Brandeis. A cursory glance around the library at students’ computer stickers or a discussion in any politics class corroborates this campus’ glaring political leaning.
Brandeis celebrates and promulgates social justice, an ideology predicated on the belief that left-wing policies are needed to rectify perceived societal inequities. Whether more liberals self-select Brandeis due to this emphasis on social justice, grow liberal once arriving on campus, or choose Brandeis based on a variety of other considerations is inconsequential; Brandeis promotes its liberal leanings as a means of attracting new students.
Brandeis should not fundamentally transform its character, but the combination of these factors artificially creates a campus community dominated by liberal students, which leads to problems down the road.
By allowing a particular set of views to dominate, Brandeis fails to actualize its “belie[f] that diverse backgrounds and ideas are crucial to academic excellence” — as the Brandeis Diversity Statement puts it — and as a result, students are being provided a tremendous disservice.
Being exposed to various world-views and critically examining pre-existing notions are fundamental tenets of a genuinely first-rate education. Simply put, ideological diversity, in addition to other types, is paramount to our pursuit of objective truth and justice.
Furthermore, a well-rounded education is the antidote to the rise of rabble-rousers, such as current presidential candidate Donald Trump. As a Feb. 1 Stanford Review article put it, “a rigorous understanding of all truths,” which we attain only through ideological diversity and challenging debate, “prevents the rise of demagogues who leverage the disillusioned to seek political power.”
At Brandeis, there is a history of ignoring ideological diversity while promoting its other forms. For example, an April 8, 2014 Justice editorial exhorted the University to rescind the honorary degree of author and women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born woman named to Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2005, was previously Muslim and suffered from female genital mutilation as a child.
The editorial contended that the degree should be rescinded because Hirsi Ali “ignore[d] the fact that there are multiple views of Islam, insist[ed] that violence is inherent in Islam and that one culture is fundamentally better than another.”
A petition created by Sarah Fahmy ’14 garnered upwards of 6,800 signatures urging the “degree [to be] rescinded immediately.”
Instead of perhaps debating the merit of her contentions, a large portion of University faculty was also quick to react with contempt. According to an April 11, 2014 Brandeis Hoot article, 87 faculty members even wrote a letter to then-President Fred Lawrence, urging him “to rescind immediately the invitation to Ms. Ayaan Hirsi Ali … a decision about which we are shocked and dismayed.”
By revoking her degree, the University effectively sheltered our “open” community from her views and corroded the very values of free expression, diversity and inclusivity that Brandeis has cherished since its founding.
Lawrence did, however, tell Hirsi Ali she “is welcome to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue,” according to an April 8, 2014 New York Times article.
The University motto is “truth, even unto its innermost parts.” How are students expected to strive for truth when the feelings of some students are prioritized over the value and potential truth of Hirsi Ali’s views? Refusing to engage with potentially painful ideas stifles our lasting commitment to open inquiry and threatens to destroy even our dedication to social justice and progress.
Worst of all, this lack of ideological diversity encourages conformity. A society rife with conformity, where dissenting opinions are ostracized or forbidden, is no longer a free society.
Mercifully, Brandeis is far from this reality, but the threat that one consistently dominating world-view — in this case, liberalism — poses should not be dismissed heedlessly.
Then, on March 17, 2015, this newspaper’s editorial board once again published an opinion on the University’s honorary degree process. They urged the administration to choose a “diverse group,” of awardees who “reflect the values of social justice.”
Under these qualifications, who is better suited to receive the award than Hirsi Ali herself, a woman of color advocating for women’s rights?
The Board’s hypocrisy is apparent. Shortly after urging the administration to rescind Hirsi Ali’s award, this paper’s editorial board called for more awardees of color. These actions evince the unfortunate truth that when Brandeis students — and liberals in general — demand “diversity,” they are almost always referring to physical diversity, not ideological diversity.
They desire and prioritize the feel-good, “visible” diversity, while simultaneously disregarding, or even deliberately neglecting “invisible” diversity, that of ideas, religious beliefs and much more, among the student body, faculty and awardees.
In other words, they want people who look different but think the same.
In an increasingly polarized campus climate, our definition of diversity must surpass the superficial qualities of race and gender. Higher education must encompass all ideas, thereby enabling students to become successful critical thinkers. For instance, professors should examine all sides of an issue in class in lieu of injecting their personal opinions, a tendency too prevalent at Brandeis.
In a Dec. 12, 2015 New York Times article, Frank Bruni writes that universities should “unveil the complexity and splendor of the world, and prepare students to be thoughtful citizens of it.” Moreover, one of higher education’s goals is surely to “challenge ingrained assumptions, disrupt entrenched thinking, [and] broaden [students’] frame of reference.” A campus dominated by one side of the political spectrum debilitates such an ideal.
According to that same New York Times piece, true diversity will only be achieved when we “insist that colleges be more aggressive in countering identity politics, tamping down partisan fury, pulling students further outside of themselves and establishing common ground,” rather than only demanding racial and other “visible” varieties of diversity.
As Brandeis’ namesake, Supreme Court Associate Justice Louis D. Brandeis, once stated, “America has believed that in differentiation, not in uniformity, lies the path of progress.”
The issue of diversity extends far beyond race and should be addressed as such.