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America’s Universities Get “F” Grade in Intellectual Diversity

New Report Shows Only “Lip Service” is Being Paid ACTA Outlines a Working Solution
December 12, 2005

WASHINGTON, DC—In spite of a statement by 30 higher education organizations recognizing the importance of intellectual diversity, a recent survey by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni shows that not a single institution has taken concrete steps to further that goal.

On June 23, 2005, the American Council on Education and 29 other institutions of higher education issued a “Statement on Academic Rights and Responsibilities” affirming support for “intellectual pluralism and academic freedom.”  The statement responded to growing national concern, underlined by a number of studies, about the one-sided political and ideological tilt of many college and university campuses.  The groups hoped to head off legislative intervention by pledging that the universities would fix the problem themselves.

In September 2005, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni sent a letter to all 30 signatories, heads of the major public universities in each state, as well as the presidents and chancellors of the top 25 National Universities and the top 25 Liberal Arts Colleges ranked by U.S. News & World Report, asking them to document statements made about the important ACE statement.  ACTA also requested information about any steps taken to implement the principles of the ACE statement.

Not one of the more than 100 institutions who received ACTA’s letter reported specific concrete steps to implement the principles.  Instead, most respondents cited existing policies as already satisfactory.  The most proactive was the University of Oregon where President David Frohnmayer reports that his deans had a “work session” on the ACE principles.  He did not report any upshot of the session.  The president of one of the signatories, the American Association of Colleges and Universities, promises to issue a statement that will be “consistent” with the ACE statement, but does not promise any steps to implement it.

“It’s all talk and no action,” said ACTA president Anne Neal.  “Higher education simply can’t have it both ways.  Colleges and university presidents say they, alone, are able to correct the situation in the classroom, but then they refuse to do anything but offer lip service to the idea of intellectual diversity.  If the academy were faced with just one study showing racism or sexism in the classroom, they would take immediate actions to address the problem.  Here we see study after study pointing out a breathtaking lack of intellectual diversity on campus and nothing is done about it. The double standard is outrageous.”

In a report made available today entitled, Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action, ACTA outlines steps universities could take to encourage a mix of ideas on campus and to respond to the growing public concern about the lack of intellectual diversity.  The report recommends adoption of the ACE Statement of Academic Rights and Responsibilities and urges administrators and faculty to undertake an institutional self-study on academic freedom and intellectual diversity.

“Education happens only when students are presented with a variety of perspectives and encouraged to think for themselves.  Yet this report is the first serious effort to begin thinking about ways to achieve greater intellectual diversity that are consistent with academic freedom and other academic norms,” Neal said.

The report warns that if trustees fail to ensure a robust exchange of ideas in the classroom they will abdicate their fiduciary responsibility.

Numerous trustees of major universities welcomed ACTA’s report and recommendations.

“ACTA deserves great credit for highlighting the critical issues of intellectual diversity and pluralism in American colleges and universities, and for doing so in a way that scrupulously safeguards academic freedom,” said Benno Schmidt, chairman of the City University of New York Board of Trustees.

“I applaud ACTA for tackling this tremendously important issue that goes to the very heart of a modern liberal arts education,” said Todd Zywicki, trustee of Dartmouth College.  “ACTA’s study contains numerous useful suggestions to strengthen academic freedom and self-governance and provides a guide for discussion and action on these important questions.”

“It isn’t fair to students to bring them to campus for four years and expose them to only one point of view,” said Tom Lucero, University of Colorado regent.  “It is up to the university to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“In my state, young people and their parents sacrifice so they can go to college,” said Drew Miller, regent of the University of Nebraska.  “As a trustee, I have an obligation to ensure that we give them an education, not indoctrination.”

“Universities have been aware of the growing lack of intellectual diversity and, for the most part, looked the other way,” said former Harvard Corporation member Judith Richards Hope.  “This report has the right idea—it is indeed the time for action.”

“Universities should not neglect the diversity most important to education—the diversity of ideas,” said Velma Montoya, former regent of the University of California.  “Hopefully, this report will hasten a much-needed reform effort.”

Survey results and the report are being sent to college and university trustees, state legislators, and Members of the higher education committees of the U.S. Congress.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni in a national nonprofit dedicated to academic freedom, academic standards and accountability in higher education. ACTA works with hundreds of college and university trustees and alumni across the country.


Highlights from Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action

A Report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni

  • The most serious challenge for higher education today is the lack of intellectual diversity.  It is serious … because it lies at the heart of what education is all about.  It has been made much more serious because for decades higher education leaders refused to acknowledge the problem.  They were simply in denial. … There still is little thoughtful discussion about proper remedies.  This publication seeks to change that. …
  • In simplest terms, intellectual diversity means a multiplicity of ideas.  In the college setting, it is the foundation of a learning environment that exposes students to a variety of political, ideological, and other perspectives.  As the American Council on Education, in a statement joined by 29 other higher education organizations, has acknowledged: “Intellectual pluralism and academic freedom are central principles of American higher education.”
  • If they are to be more than just empty words, however, principles must lead to policies. The fact remains, that in the world of higher education, diversity has come to mean a preference for a diversity of backgrounds, but not a diversity of views.  When it comes to social, political, religious, and ideological matters, academe has shown a pronounced preference for only one end of the spectrum.
  • Faculty imbalance, combined with the idea that the “politically correct” point of view has a right to dominate classroom and campus discussions, has had fearful consequences for university life.
  • Many of our campuses have become, as one observer put it, islands of oppression in a sea of freedom.  There is no way this kind of one-sided, coercive atmosphere can be conducive to a solid education.  Students are not empowered to think for themselves by being given only one side of the story. The lack of intellectual diversity is depriving an entire generation of the kind of education they deserve.
  • Based on social scientific evidence as well as discussions with professors, administrators, trustees, and higher education experts, it is clear that:

       (1)  Today’s college faculties are overwhelmingly one-sided in their political and ideological views, especially in the value-laden fields of the humanities and social sciences; and

       (2)  This lack of intellectual diversity is undermining the education of students as well as the free exchange of ideas central to the mission of the university; and

       (3)  It is urgent that universities effectively address the challenge of intellectual diversity.  Some ways of addressing it are explored below.

  • A major obstacle to change has been a fear that any effort to encourage intellectual diversity would violate one or another academic norm. ACTA has been sensitive to this concern and has discussed it with professors, administrators, and trustees.  Based on these discussions, we have pulled together a set of concrete, practical ideas that provide a starting point for discussion for universities looking for ways to address the problem.  Hopefully, discussion on each campus will develop and refine these ideas and also explore other avenues for improving intellectual diversity.

       1.   Conduct a self-study to assess the current state of intellectual diversity on campus and identify areas for improvement. …

       2.   Incorporate intellectual diversity into institutional statements and activities on diversity. …

       3.   If the university has a speech code, eliminate it. …

       4.   Encourage balanced panels and speaker series. …

       5.    Establish clear campus policies which ensure hecklers or threats of violence do not prevent speakers from speaking. …

       6.   Include intellectual diversity concerns in university guidelines on teaching. …

       7.   Include intellectual diversity issues in student course evaluations. …

       8.   Amend hiring, tenure, and promotion guidelines. …

       9.   Amend student grievance guidelines. …

       10. Use visiting professors to achieve greater diversity. …

       11. Encourage departments to diversify. …

       12. Establish new academic programs. …

       13. Ensure student press freedom. …

       14. Prohibit political bias in student-funded groups. …

       15. When hiring, seek a commitment to intellectual diversity. …

       16. Create a university ombudsman. …

         …These suggestions should be sufficient to demonstrate that intellectual diversity is not just something desirable in theory.  The means are there to encourage it.  Is there the will?

  • Trustees may be told that any proactive steps by the board would violate academic freedom.  That is not the case.  Academic freedom is essentially the right of professors to pursue knowledge in their fields and to share the results of that inquiry with their students and the public.  It is a right granted to professors in exchange for a sacred trust—that they will use the freedom they are given over the classroom and over academic policy, for valid educational ends, not to pursue their own pet causes or personal politics.  The board has not only a right, but a duty, to ensure that the faculty lives up to these responsibilities, and to insist on remedial action when it does not.  It is a duty, in fact, that has been affirmed strongly by the higher education community and raised as the critical reason why legislative intervention is unnecessary. … Any board that fails to guarantee the free exchange of ideas and the student’s right to learn on its campus is simply not doing its job.

Where should the board begin?

  • First, it could endorse the American Council on Education’s statement on academic freedom and intellectual pluralism.
  • Second, it could adopt the first of the suggestions in the previous section and ask for an institutional self-study of the condition of intellectual diversity on the campus, leaving it to the faculty and administration to determine the details.  It might say, for example:

         “The board endorses the American Council of Education statement on Academic Rights and Responsibilities and directs the administration and faculty to conduct an institutional self-study to determine how well the university is living up to the principles of intellectual diversity enunciated therein.”

  • Third, it should set a reasonable timetable for such a study and review information provided in the self-study.  If the self-study is a whitewash or omits critical issues, the board should ask for a follow-up study. …
  • The law is a blunt instrument and state legislatures and the federal Congress are not well-positioned to prescribe specific remedies.  But state and federal legislators can provide a valuable service by holding hearings to educate the public and making it clear to the universities that they are expected to ensure the free exchange of ideas and classrooms free of political abuse.

Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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