I want to call your attention to a piece by social psychologist Jon Haidt on the Heterodox Academy site: “The Yale problem begins in high school.” It recounts a lecture that Haidt gave to an elite high school (the kind that feeds students to Yale), as well some discussions Haidt had with students at other elite schools. What he encountered was a conundrum: many of the students are in principle in favor of free speech, but fear to express their own views for fear of social opprobrium. In other words, what we see at places like Yale, Columbia, Wesleyan, and Stanford are problems that are already evident among high school students.
Haidt and Greg Lukianoff have suggested that the root cause of the student “offense culture” is a childhood upbringing of “vindictive protectiveness,” and have suggested solutions ranging from abandoning college speech codes and trigger warnings through teaching cognitive behavioral therapy to incoming students to help them deal with offensive speech and ideas. Now, however, Haidt has another solution: promote not just ethnic diversity, but viewpoint diversity:
What do you suppose a conversation about race or gender will look like in any Yale classroom ten years from now? Who will dare to challenge the orthodox narrative imposed by victimhood culture? The “Next Yale” that activists are demanding will make today’s Centerville High look like Plato’s Academy by comparison.
The only hope for Centerville High — and for Yale — is to disrupt their repressively uniform moral matrices to make room for dissenting views. High schools and colleges that lack viewpoint diversity should make it their top priority. Race and gender diversity matter too, but if those goals are pursued in the ways that student activists are currently demanding, then political orthodoxy is likely to intensify. Schools that value freedom of thought should therefore actively seek out non-leftist faculty, and they should explicitly include viewpoint diversity and political diversity in all statements about diversity and discrimination.** Parents and students who value freedom of thought should take viewpoint diversity into account when applying to colleges. Alumni should take it into account before writing any more checks.
The Yale problem refers to an unfortunate feedback loop: Once you allow victimhood culture to spread on your campus, you can expect ever more anger from students representing victim groups, coupled with demands for a deeper institutional commitment to victimhood culture, which leads inexorably to more anger, more demands, and more commitment. But the Yale problem didn’t start at Yale. It started in high school.
I’m not sure about the practicality of getting “viewpoint diversity” among faculty given that most academics are leftists, but I agree that political and ideological diversity are largely lacking on many campuses, and that it would be good for students to encounter, say, a conservative professor,say a Ross Doubthat type—only smart. And while we’re promoting diversity, why not, among students, try to get income diversity, so that there’s a dollop of freshman who come from deprived backgrounds. While these may often coincide with ethnic minorities, they won’t always, and poor students of any group have faced challenges unknown to the “privileged” ones. Many schools have need blind admissions, so students are admitted on the basis of merit, along with consideration of their ethnicity, without anyone looking at their financial means. But why not consider those means as a source of diversity as well? I see considerable benefit in this.
There’s a lot more in Haidt’s long article, and it’s well worth reading, containing many links to instances of student offense and demands. And there’s some decent discussion in the comments.
Apropos, here’s a new Bloom County strip displaying the problem (click both strips to enlarge):
And a Prickly City strip relevant to the Offense Culture:
h/t: Bob, Gregory