NAS Endorses the Campus Intellectual Diversity Act

Peter Wood

The National Association of Scholars endorses the model state legislation titled, The Campus Intellectual Diversity Act.

This Act would advance the goal of improving higher education at public colleges and universities by encouraging well-formed and intelligent debate on important public policy issues.  Such debate is needed to ensure that college students acquire a well-rounded understanding of the range of views that shape our state and national discussions on matters of which Americans at large disagree.

The main idea of the Act is to establish at public colleges and universities an Office of Public Policy Events that would stage debates on important issues that include speakers who hold divergent perspectives. The legislation would ensure the integrity of this step by requiring the office to make the schedule of debates public and to maintain an Internet-accessible video archive of the debates,

The National Association of Scholars’ mission is to uphold the kind of “education that fosters intellectual freedom, searches for the truth, and promotes virtuous citizenship.”  The Campus Intellectual Diversity Act would contribute to all three of these goals.  It would foster intellectual freedom by presenting students with alternatives that they can weigh for themselves and choose among.  It would foster the search for the truth by putting the burden on proponents of every view to put forward their basic arguments and best evidence, and by exposing claims that rest on faulty evidence or mere assertion.  And it would promote virtuous citizenship by teaching students how to listen, how to weigh competing claims about the public good, how to ask pertinent questions, and how to deliberate in an effort to discern the best answers.

For most of its history, American higher education embodied the spirit of The Campus Intellectual Diversity Act. Plainly this is no longer the case.  Although many colleges and universities continue to claim that they are committed to academic and intellectual freedom, civil discourse, and debate on key public policy issues, these claims ring hollow. Shout-downs, disinvitations, and disparate treatment of groups associated with views that are unpopular on campus have caught the public eye.  But even more telling are the non-invitations and other quiet ways in which proponents of unpopular views are kept out of campus discussions. 

The NAS has documented these exclusionary practices in many of our studies, including George La Noue’s “Promoting a Campus of Policy Debates” (Academic Questions, Winter 2017), Mitchell Langbert’s “Homogenous: The Political Affiliations of Elite Liberal Arts College Faculty” (Academic Questions, Summer 2018), and David Randall’s Making Citizens (2017). Numerous studies published elsewhere have confirmed the picture that college faculties are overwhelmingly dominated by individuals who see themselves as “progressive” or “left of center.”  Some of these faculty members actively seek to prevent students from being exposed to view from elsewhere on the political spectrum, but many faculty members simply treat the exclusion of non-left views as the normal condition of campus life.

The Campus Intellectual Diversity Act is a major step towards overcoming these barriers to the expression of competing ideas on campus.  The Act is model legislation intended for state legislatures.  It can be modified as needed for the circumstances of particular states, but it strikes exactly where the need is greatest by creating a strong incentive for colleges and universities to “teach the controversies” by bringing proponents of opposing views together for civil exchange of views in a public forum. 

The National Association of Scholars strongly endorses this concept and welcomes The Campus Intellectual Diversity Act as a signal contribution to American civic life.

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