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TOPIC: A Movement Rises To Take Back Higher Education

A Movement Rises To Take Back Higher Education 4 months 3 weeks ago #288524

  • jerseyshorejohnny
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A Movement Rises to Take Back Higher Education

Heterodox Academy, now more than 2,000 strong, stands against censorship and for free inquiry.

By Emily Esfahan Smith / Wall Street Journal

June 17, 2018

Debra Mashek, a psychology professor at Harvey Mudd College, was leading a class discussion about intellectual humility this past semester when the conversation came to a halt. Ms. Mashek asked the students to think of ways in which, during an argument, they could signal intellectual humility—that is, admit they don’t have all the answers and are open to other perspectives. A white woman suggested prefacing statements with something like: “I could be crazy, but . . .” A black student then objected to the word “crazy.” He said it marginalizes people with mental illness, especially incarcerated black men.

A few months later, Ms. Mashek was advising a student about which classes he should take when he said: “With this class, I could kill two birds—” He stammered and then abandoned the idiom: “I could complete two requirements with one course.” Ms. Mashek asked why he had censored himself. “I didn’t want to offend you,” she recalls him saying, “because it’s a violent statement and we are not supposed to talk about violent things.”

The censorious climate of higher education has predictably created a culture of self-censorship. Two-thirds of this year’s graduating seniors at Harvard said “they had at some point chosen not to express an opinion in an academic setting during their time at Harvard out of fear that it would offend others,” according to a Harvard Crimson poll.

But some students and professors are standing up against the new culture of safe spaces, trigger warnings, microaggressions and bias response teams. Ms. Mashek took a leave of absence from Harvey Mudd to become executive director of Heterodox Academy, an organization founded in 2015 to promote viewpoint diversity on campus. Its members, more than 2,000 professors and graduate students in the U.S. and beyond, are leading a movement in favor of free speech and inquiry. They held their first-ever conference Friday in New York.

Heterodox Academy is a politically diverse group—from Princeton legal scholar Robert P. George and Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker to Columbia linguist John McWhorter and former American Civil Liberties Union president Nadine Strossen. Their common belief: that the purpose of a university is to teach students how to think, which entails disturbing their psychological equilibrium from time to time by exposing them to ideas that contradict their current beliefs. The pursuit of truth, not social justice, is the purpose of a university. If everyone on campus thinks alike—or pretends to, for fear of giving offense or being ostracized—then an open exchange of ideas is impossible, and so is learning.

Speech codes on college campuses have been around at least since the 1980s. But what has changed, according to social psychologist Jonathan Haidt of New York University, is the attitude of the students. Mr. Haidt, who co-founded Heterodox Academy, believes that today’s collegians are more apt than earlier generations to feel threatened by words and ideas. The members of what psychologist Jean Twenge calls “iGen”—the internet generation, born since 1995—have far higher rates of anxiety and depression than did older millennials. Research suggests that iGen’s steady diet of social media may be partly to blame. These students, many of whose parents protected them from the ordinary adversities of daily life, began arriving to campus in 2013, psychologically fragile and unprepared for the challenges of a college education.

They started insisting on “trigger warnings” and demanding that controversial speakers be disinvited from campus. In fall 2015 a wave of highly publicized protests over racial issues hit Yale and the University of Missouri. In 2016 the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education recorded 43 attempts to disinvite speakers from campus. Then in 2017, mobs at Berkeley and Middlebury rioted against provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and social scientist Charles Murray.

Data back up these anecdotes. A 2017 survey by FIRE and YouGov found that 58% of students said it was “important to be part of a campus community where they are not exposed to intolerant or offensive ideas.” In a Brookings Institution survey from the same year, 1 in 5 students said using violence to stop a speaker was sometimes acceptable.

But we may be turning a corner. According to FIRE, disinvitation demands dropped to 36 in 2017, and only nine have been issued so far this year. At the same time, academics and administrators—some of whom spoke at the Heterodox Academy conference—have taken steps to increase viewpoint diversity on their campuses.

In 2015 the University of Chicago issued a statement validating the importance of free speech in education. To date 42 schools, from Columbia to the University of Minnesota, have adopted the Chicago principles or a statement like it. Last year Mr. George, the Princeton conservative, authored a statement with Cornel West, a Harvard leftist, asserting that “all of us should seek respectfully to engage with people who challenge our views.” It has thousands of signatories, inside and outside academia.

Michael Roth, the progressive president of Wesleyan University, last year announced an “affirmative action” program to bring conservative faculty and ideas to campus. Heterodox Academy has created an educational app called OpenMind to help students learn virtues like intellectual humility and empathy so that they can speak to one another across the divide. So far it has been used in over 100 classrooms.

As encouraging as these initiatives are, there’s a more fundamental shift that needs to take place—a rethinking of identity politics. Rather than promoting a “common-enemy identity politics” that admonishes white people and others with “privilege,” Mr. Haidt said Friday, professors and administrators should embrace a “common-humanity identity politics.” Isn’t that what liberal education is all about?

Ms. Smith, an editor at the Hoover Institution, is author of “The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed With Happiness.”
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A Movement Rises To Take Back Higher Education 4 months 3 weeks ago #288539

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Totally agree with the critical need to reinstate “free inguiry’ into higher education.
That means many things.
It means allowing into the fray, personalities and opinions one disagrees with as well as being able to engage those views in honest, full, and civil debate.
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A Movement Rises To Take Back Higher Education 4 months 3 weeks ago #288568

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The person making the biggest strides in this discipline and heterodox research issues such as free speech, and is the Canadian Professor Jordan Peterson who began to get notoriety for contesting the introduction of transgender pronouns in Canada's Human Rights Law. I do not think the law was passed but it implied that failure to use these mandated pronouns subjected the offender to a fine, and if the fine is not paid the offender is looking at Jail. Or put differently, Canada is getting dangerously close to its 1984 world...

I think perhaps Noam Chomsky said it best when he said "Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech." :)
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