Hey Students! Make Your School the First Heterodox University!

Want to support free speech and greater viewpoint diversity on your campus? Here's how.


Robert Kneschke/Dreamstime

The good folks over at Heterodox Academy are launching an initiative today that aims to help students who want see greater viewpoint diversity on their college campuses. As my Reason colleagues have repeatedly reported, free speech and non-P.C. views are endangered on college campuses around the country. The Heterodox Academy was established by a group of scholars who are concerned about the problem of the loss or lack of viewpoint diversity at universities and colleges. They observe, "When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged. To reverse this process, we have come together to advocate for a more intellectually diverse and heterodox academy."

The new initiative centers around three proposed resolutions affirming viewpoint diversity that are designed to be introduced by students and adopted by student governments that declare their schools to be a "Heterodox University." The preamble of the proposed resolutions declares …

… we know that exposure to diversity broadens our minds and prepares us for citizenship in a diverse democratic society. Research shows that the kind of diversity that most improves the quality and creativity of thinking is viewpoint diversity. When everyone thinks alike, there is a danger of groupthink, prejudice, dogmatism, and orthodoxy. People in the majority benefit from interacting with individuals who see things differently.

At a time when American democracy is polarizing into antagonistic camps and informational bubbles, many colleges and universities are becoming more intellectually and politically homogeneous. Orthodoxies arise, dissent is punished, and quality declines. We do not want that to happen in our community.

We therefore welcome heterodoxy, meaning that we want to support those within our community who hold dissenting or minority viewpoints; we want them to express themselves freely and without fear. We value viewpoint diversity not merely out of compassion for those in the minority but also because such diversity helps us all to develop skills essential for life after graduation, including the ability to judge the quality of ideas for ourselves, the ability to formulate arguments against ideas we reject, and the ability to live and work amicably alongside those whose ideas and values we do not share.

The resolutions urge (1) the Faculty Senate at schools to adopt the University of Chicago's Principles on Freedom of Expression, or (2) implement a non-obstruction policy against shouting down controversial speakers, or (3) asks the university to explcitly include viewpoint diversity in its faculty hiring and curriculum policies.

Last year, the University of Chicago issued a report on freedom of expression on its campus which stated:

Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn. Except insofar as limitations on that freedom are necessary to the functioning of the University, the University of Chicago fully respects and supports the freedom of all members of the University community "to discuss any problem that presents itself."

Of course, the ideas of different members of the University community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community. …

In a word, the University's fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University's educational mission.

As a corollary to the University's commitment to protect and promote free expression, members of the University community must also act in conformity with the principle of free expression. Although members of the University community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed on campus, and to criticize and contest speakers who are invited to express their views on campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe. To this end, the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.

Who in academia (or anywhere else in real life, for that matter) could possibly object to these principles? So go here for more details on the Heterodox Academy initiative to help make your school a Heterodox University. Good luck and let us know your efforts turn out.

As a bonus, see the discussion between my colleagues Robby Soave and Matt Welch on "How the Federal Government is Killing Free Speech on Campus" below.