by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Fabio Rojas writes for the Martin Center about problems associated with uniformity of opinion among academics.
A few years ago, Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist, realized that most of his colleagues were on the Left. This is not necessarily a bad thing. People are allowed to have differing political views. It is also wrong to judge the quality of scientific research on political beliefs.
However, the uniformity of opinion presents institutional challenges. The academy is a church of skeptics. Progress is made when people are allowed to disagree. In the humanities and social sciences, a dominant mainstream may prevent questions that will deepen inquiry and identify errors and biases.
The solution, for Haidt, is not a new orthodoxy. One does not improve the academy by forming a conservative orthodoxy to balance a liberal blockade. As they say on the schoolyard, “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Instead, one needs a new academic mindset, one that makes it possible to move beyond conformity and groupthink. Haidt called this mindset “heterodoxy.” In this essay, I will argue for a habit of mind that heterodoxy should include: intellectual desegregation.
The very first step toward a genuinely heterodox mindset is intellectual desegregation. In other words, most academics find themselves in relative “safe spaces” where they encounter people like themselves.
There is an old joke about Richard Nixon that makes this point. A professor in a very liberal enclave, such as Cambridge, says, “I don’t understand how Nixon could have won—none of my friends voted for him!” Many professors and educators live similar lives. They live politically homogeneous lives. I don’t merely refer to the neighborhoods in which they reside. I also mean their intellectual lives.