Increasingly over the last few years, universities have seen a rapid change in how students regard free speech and inquiry. Growing political polarization throughout the country has minimized opportunities for reasoned dialogue and increased resistance to hearing divergent political opinions, both inside and outside of the classroom. In fact, today’s college students may graduate unexposed to the wide variety of political perspectives present in American life.
For leaders and trustees who care deeply about their beloved universities, it can be a confounding process to understand how well their institutions are fostering viewpoint diversity and the free exchange of ideas.
A campus atmosphere that promotes viewpoint diversity is more likely to produce politically engaged students, who have developed empathy by conversing with and understanding perspectives different from their own.
But, until now, there were few ways to measure the degree of viewpoint diversity on campus—and few organizations set out to try. At Heterodox Academy, we have created a resource to shed new light on this seemingly intractable conflict. The newly revised Heterodox Academy Guide to Colleges uses an original methodology that analyzes and ranks the top 150 national universities listed in the U.S. News & World Report, as well as the top 50 liberal arts schools, according to their commitment to viewpoint diversity and promotion of free speech on campus.
Institutional policy and statements from college presidents on the vitality of free speech only go so far—if ideological orthodoxy is still a de facto issue on campus, where does that tendency originate? The Guide looks at recent issues and events involving students, faculty, and administrators, as well as other sources, to compile an overall heterodox score.
Beyond its value for prospective students and families looking to identify schools that encourage airing a plurality of opinions, the Guide to Colleges will help trustees and administrators better understand and improve the climates on their campuses. Articles in the New York Times and, recently, the Wall Street Journal highlight positive examples of schools that work to advance truth and intellectual discovery and safeguard against orthodoxy.
Heterodox Academy is committed to praising the top of the list instead of castigating those that score near the bottom. More so, our hope is to be a partner in helping universities improve their score and identify resources and tools—such as our Fearless Speech Index and Viewpoint Diversity Experience— that can help enhance viewpoint diversity in the classroom and campus-wide and assist student understanding of different political perspectives.
Jeremy Willinger is Heterodox Academy’s communications director and project director for the Guide to Colleges. Readers can share feedback with firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on contributing to the Forum, contact email@example.com.
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