Zaid Jilani writes about the role American institutions are playing in hurting themselves.

The Urban Institute is one of America’s most storied think tanks. For half a century, it has produced high-quality research that has helped guide American policymakers as they tackle major domestic policy challenges.

Part of what makes the organization’s work so valuable is that it’s produced in an environment that values rigor and objectivity. Regardless of whether you agree with their policy recommendations or political lean—they tend to argue in favor of progressive solutions—you can count on their research being thorough and reliable.

That’s why it was so alarming to see a recent Urban Institute blog post by one of its policy analysts, Lauren Farrell, that argues that we should rethink the very concept of impartial research. She warned that the research practices of “objectivity” and “rigor” are “harmful” and “rooted in racism, ableism, and classism.”

“Objectivity allows researchers, intentions aside, to define themselves as experts without learning from people with lived experience,” she cautioned. “Objectivity also gives researchers grounds to claim they have no motives or biases in their work.” …

… The response … is emblematic of the struggle between truth and social justice that is taking place across many left-leaning institutions in the United States.

Some years ago, the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt described that battle when it started to break out in higher education. “Aristotle often evaluated a thing with respect to its telos—its purpose, end, or goal,” Haidt wrote. “What is the telos of university? The most obvious answer is ‘truth’—the word appears on so many university crests. But increasingly, many of America’s top universities are embracing social justice as their telos, or as a second or equal telos.” Then Haidt posed the key question: “What happens if they conflict?”

While we all have our own ideological preferences, we should always want truth to win in any conflict with a political agenda.