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Ideological aims undermine higher education



Deficiencies in the Yale Class of 2022

At the beginning of this academic year, The Yale Daily News posted an article about its freshman class, describing it as “one of the most diverse in University history.” Here is Yale’s definition of diverse: a record 47 percent of the class is made up of U.S. citizens or permanent residents who identify themselves as members of a minority ethnic or racial group, and 22 percent of respondents in the Yale Daily News survey identify their sexual orientation as somewhere within the range of LGBTQ+.

Furthermore, nearly 75 percent of student respondents identify as “very liberal” or “somewhat liberal.” Just over 16 percent of incoming freshman said they were centrist, almost 9 percent reported somewhat “conservative,” and slightly less than 2 percent of respondents identified as “very conservative.”

Yale is not alone. Universities across the country are championing the progressive call for diversity, yet ignoring one of the key tenets of that call: diversity in intellectual thought. Most Ivy League schools check in at about 45-50 percent students of color for their incoming freshmen classes. That number is a positive change that should not be discounted. On the other hand, diversity in thought should not be disregarded as unimportant.

According to a 2016 study by Langbert, Quain, and Klein, the average ratio of Democrat to Republican faculty in America’s leading academic institutions is 12:1 (in the fields of Economics, History, Journalism/Communications, Law, and Psychology). Comparatively, in 2017 Gallup reported that only 26 percent of adult Americans identify as liberal. Most schools do not have data similar to Yale on the political leanings of incoming students, but it is not hard to predict similar numbers for other elite educational institutions.

In February of 2017, the former Stanford provost John Etchemendy painted a dreadful picture to the current Board of Trustees on the future of intellectual thought on campus: “Over the years, I have watched a growing intolerance at universities in this country… a kind of intellectual intolerance, a political one-sidedness, that is the antithesis of what universities should stand for. It manifests itself in many ways: in the intellectual monocultures that have taken over certain disciplines; in the demands to disinvite speakers and outlaw groups whose views we find offensive; in constant calls for the university itself to take political stands. We decry certain news outlets as echo chambers, while we fail to notice the echo chamber we’ve built around ourselves.”

It seems the term “diverse” in the modern university’s mind has been stripped of its original meaning. Sadly, and perhaps ironically, the modern university is where true diversity is needed the most.

According to the findings of the Freshman Survey, an annual study of first year college students administered by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, in 2016, students were the most polarized in the 51-year history of the study. UCLA’s report on these findings suggested that institutions should consider “expanding activities… in order to help students develop their ability to engage in productive conversations about their political views with peers or others who might hold dissimilar views or values.”

Diversity in thought is not only vital to a strong education and an ability to reason. It is vital to the functioning of our society. As UCLA noted, polarization is at an all-time high. As universities continue to separate into echo-chambers, this polarization will only become worse.

Perhaps even more striking is what this means for First Amendment rights. A 2017 Gallup/Knight Foundation survey of 3,014 randomly sampled U.S. college students found that 69 percent of college students believe political conservatives can freely and openly express their views on campus, compared to the 92 percent who say the same about political liberals.

The evils of a lack of intellectual diversity can be seen daily. Just ask Carson Macik, a conservative freshman at Yale, who told the Yale Daily News that “there are some students who I’ve run into where our conversations have quickly devolved into them yelling at me, and I just wanted to escape.”

At Notre Dame, in everything the University sets out to achieve, it holds itself to the highest possible standard. Due to this, Notre Dame has a strong precedent of preserving diverse intellectual thought. Some examples quickly come to mind: one of the most popular political clubs on campus is BridgeND, a bipartisan forum for all students to discuss varying viewpoints, and Notre Dame is willing to invite speakers such as Charles Murray who received backlash at other universities.

Notre Dame has set itself apart from the likes of Yale by consistently doing the opposite of what the former Stanford provost warned about. Professors have diverse viewpoints that they are not afraid to share; student groups deemed controversial do not lose their free speech rights; the University itself refuses to take ideological stands on issues regarding students, such as DACA, focusing on the students involved instead.  

The University’s commitment to excellence and its Catholic identity encourages students of all ideological backgrounds to attend. Still, Notre Dame is unique. Most Universities are no longer open forums for public debate and have been stripped of diversity in thought. In striving to achieve goals regarding ethnic, socioeconomic, and sexual diversity, other universities cannot forget what it means to be intellectually diverse. As John Etchemendy said, it is the antithesis of a college education to be surrounded by people who all agree with you.

Claire Marie Kuhn is a senior majoring in political science with minors in Peace Studies and Business Economics. She enjoys long afternoon naps and iced green tea lattes. To talk with her over one of those lattes, contact her at ckuhn1@nd.edu.

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