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← What universities missed in their fight for diversity | Josh Dunn | TEDxMileHigh

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Showing Revision 10 created 04/05/2019 by Mirjana Čutura.

  1. As a teacher,
  2. I know the value of having
    a classroom filled with students
  3. from different backgrounds.
  4. My classes on American politics are deeply
    enriched by the diversity of my students.
  5. For example, when discussing
    welfare reform,
  6. there's nothing like having
    a brave young student raise their hand
  7. and talk about the challenges
    of personally growing up in poverty
  8. to get the rest of the class
    to sit up and pay attention.
  9. But while our colleges and universities
  10. make every effort to increase
    the representation
  11. of racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities,
  12. there's another kind of diversity
    that we often forget:
  13. viewpoint diversity.
  14. In today's increasingly
    polarized political climate,
  15. having people on campus with different
    perspectives is more important than ever.
  16. If you haven't noticed, Washington DC
    has recently been a bit of a spectacle.
  17. (Laughter)
  18. And if you're like me,
    you've probably thought
  19. that our leaders could use
    some remedial education in civil dialogue.
  20. (Applause and cheers)
  21. Our colleges could be a place
  22. where our future leaders learn to engage
    with people they disagree with.
  23. But today, too many people
    on campus seem to think
  24. that the appropriate response
    to people they disagree with
  25. is shouting, name-calling,
    and even violence.
  26. Every year, every semester
    brings more and more examples.
  27. In 2017, at Middlebury College,
    when the liberal professor Allison Stanger
  28. tried to moderate
    a free and fair exchange of ideas
  29. with a controversial
    libertarian Charles Murray,
  30. students yelled, screamed,
    and pulled fire alarms.
  31. Eventually, campus officials
    tried to sneak them out of back door,
  32. but a mob of mass protestors found them
  33. and jerked professor Stanger's head
  34. so violently that she suffered
    whiplash and a concussion.
  35. This is what's happening on our campuses,
  36. places the next generation of leaders
    is learning to interact with others.
  37. If it's happening there,
  38. can we be surprised
    at what's happening in Washington
  39. or corporate boardrooms
  40. or even our own neighborhoods?
  41. My expertise happens
    to be in higher education,
  42. and I've seen the lack
    of intellectual diversity first-hand.
  43. Today, less than 13 percent of professors
    identify as conservative,
  44. while 60 percent identify
    as either liberal or far left.
  45. In the Humanities and Social Sciences,
  46. fields where politics is often central
    to teaching and research,
  47. only five percent
    identify as conservative,
  48. and most of those are in Economics
    or Political Science.
  49. In some fields, they're almost
    an extinct species.
  50. And of that five percent,
  51. only some are even willing
    to admit it to their co-workers.
  52. Seven years ago,
    my friend John Shields and I
  53. decided it would be interesting to study
    conservative and libertarian professors
  54. in the Social Sciences and Humanities.
  55. Everyone in the university knows
  56. that professors
    are overwhelmingly liberal.
  57. But we realized that there
    was almost no research
  58. on the experiences
    of conservatives on campus.
  59. What are their lives like?
  60. Are they afraid of being punished
    or that they'll be denied tenure
  61. because of their politics?
  62. We ended up interviewing
    153 conservative professors.
  63. Much of what we found was alarming:
  64. One-third of them hid their politics
    from their colleagues.
  65. They described themselves
    as "in-the-closet conservatives."
  66. Many expressed profound fear
    about being outed.
  67. Some even thought that our project
    was a Red Scare in reverse:
  68. we must be trying
    to identify conservatives
  69. so they can be run out of the university.
  70. One sociologist was so afraid
  71. that he refused to let us interview him.
  72. But after convincing
    him that we came in peace,
  73. he finally agreed to talk to us
  74. but only far away from his office,
  75. where his colleagues
    would never see or hear us -
  76. in the middle of a botanical garden.
  77. (Laughter)
  78. John and I left this interview
    feeling like spies
  79. rather than the nerdy, socially awkward
    professors that we actually are.
  80. (Laughter)
  81. Now, maybe you think
    that it's not a problem
  82. that conservatives have to hide
    behind bushes in botanical gardens,
  83. (Laughter)
  84. but if you think that diversity
    is good for all of us,
  85. then so is viewpoint diversity.
  86. For one reason, it matters for teaching.
  87. (Applause and cheers)
  88. At its best,
  89. the university is a place where students
    can learn deliberative virtues,
  90. like civility, toleration,
    and mutual respect.
  91. But in a monoculture,
    it's difficult to do this.
  92. This is a lost opportunity
    for civic education.
  93. The university is also a place
  94. where students should learn
    to live in a diverse society.
  95. For many, it's really the first time
  96. they're exposed to people
    who are different from themselves.
  97. Ideally, students would learn
    the best arguments
  98. of both the left and the right,
  99. not the watered-down
    and inflammatory versions
  100. you hear on cable news
    or read on social media.
  101. But today, it's quite possible
    to receive an education -
  102. and an elite one at that -
  103. and never be exposed
    to major conservative ideas,
  104. ideas that have, for better or worse,
    profoundly influenced American politics.
  105. But it's not impossible.
  106. Robby George is one of America's
    most prominent conservative professors,
  107. and Cornel West is one of our most
    prominent African American scholars.
  108. He's a progressive and
    a self-declared radical democrat.
  109. Despite their political differences,
  110. the two became close friends
    while they were colleagues at Princeton.
  111. Eventually, they decided
    to teach a course together.
  112. Doing that allowed them to show students
  113. how you could respectfully
    engage people you disagree with
  114. and sharpen your own arguments
    at the same time.
  115. Today, they have a traveling roadshow
    and visit campuses around the country.
  116. The only sad part of their story
    is that it is so rare.
  117. Our campuses would be far healthier places
  118. if their example was the norm
    rather than the exception.
  119. (Applause)
  120. Another important goal of the university
  121. is to generate research that improves
    our understanding of the world.
  122. But academic echo chambers, where we
    only talk to people we agree with,
  123. undermine that mission.
  124. And that's because of confirmation bias.
  125. Confirmation bias is just
    the tendency that we all have
  126. to accept evidence that supports
    our pre-existing beliefs.
  127. For example, if you're like me
    and drink a lot of coffee,
  128. at least one to two pots a day,
  129. (Laughter)
  130. you enthusiastically accept every story
    about the health benefits of coffee,
  131. (Laughter)
  132. and you share them widely on social media.
  133. "Look, everyone, science
    has confirmed my life choices."
  134. (Laughter)
  135. But if you see research showing
    that coffee might be bad for you,
  136. "Don't tell me, I don't want
    to hear about it, it can't be true."
  137. That's confirmation bias.
  138. Basically, none of us like
    being told that we might be wrong,
  139. and that's particularly true
    about our deeply held beliefs
  140. about things like politics,
    religion, or coffee.
  141. When intellectually isolated
    research communities form,
  142. no one is there to challenge their biases.
  143. And when that happens, groupthink sets in,
    and errors go uncorrected.
  144. When we're divided
    into groups of like-minded people,
  145. our positions also tend
    to become more extreme.
  146. Just compare Boulder to Colorado Springs.
  147. (Laughter)
  148. You may have heard there are some
    differences between the two communities?
  149. (Laughter)
  150. In fact, scholars have studied them.
  151. In one experiment, they took
    a group of liberals from Boulder
  152. and had them talk about
    controversial issues like climate change
  153. and same-sex marriage with each other.
  154. And then they took a group
    of conservatives from Colorado Springs
  155. and had them do the same thing.
  156. After each group had deliberated,
    their views became more extreme.
  157. The Boulder liberals
    moved farther to the left,
  158. and the Colorado Springs conservatives
    moved farther to the right.
  159. Viewpoint diversity directly affects
    the quality of education we're providing
  160. and the quality of research
    that we're producing.
  161. Universities, particularly administrators,
    must make it a priority.
  162. They need to remind their campuses
  163. that the university depends
    on the free exchange of ideas.
  164. And that affects everything
    from hiring to guest speakers.
  165. Now, these changes
    aren't going to happen overnight,
  166. but there are things that we can do
    that can make a difference.
  167. One option is what my co-author
    and I have called
  168. "an ideological Fulbright Program."
  169. The Fulbright Program
    is an educational exchange program
  170. where American faculty and students
    go abroad to study, teach, and research.
  171. And then non-US citizens
    come here and do the same.
  172. America created it after World War II.
  173. The goal was to promote peace
  174. by increasing mutual
    understanding across cultures.
  175. Something similar
    would be useful here at home,
  176. where conservative
    and progressive cultures
  177. rarely interact with each other on campus.
  178. In fact, there's already
    a program much like this
  179. at the University of Colorado Boulder,
  180. where each year they bring
    a conservative professor to campus.
  181. (Laughter)
  182. More faculty could also be encouraged
  183. to follow the example
    of Robby George and Cornel West
  184. and teach classes
    across the ideological divide.
  185. Many professors are already on board.
  186. One organization, Heterodox Academy,
  187. was founded in 2015
    by a progressive scholar.
  188. It already has several thousand members.
  189. These faculty believe
    that viewpoint diversity
  190. is in their own self-interest
  191. because it makes them
    better teachers and scholars.
  192. But there's a deeper lesson for all of us
    whether we're on campus or not.
  193. We all need to get out
    of our comfortable political silos
  194. on Facebook or Twitter.
  195. Think about the close, personal friendship
  196. between the conservative
    Justice Antonin Scalia
  197. and the liberal Justice
    Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
  198. (Applause and cheers)
  199. the notorious RBG, as she's known.
  200. (Laughter)
  201. Before Justice Scalia died,
  202. there were hardly two people
    on the Court who disagreed more
  203. about how to interpret the Constitution.
  204. But there were no closer friends
    on the Court either.
  205. In fact, they also had
    a traveling roadshow,
  206. where they went around the country
  207. and talked about how they disagreed
    just about everything
  208. when it came to politics
    or constitutional interpretation.
  209. Their odd-couple relationship
    even inspired someone to write an opera
  210. about their peculiar friendship.
  211. (Laughter)
  212. When Justice Scalia died,
  213. Justice Ginsburg wrote a moving tribute
    to the man she called her best buddy.
  214. She said, "We disagreed now and then."
  215. (Laughter)
  216. That's a significant understatement
    for anyone who studies the Supreme Court,
  217. but she said whenever Scalia
    dissented from her opinions,
  218. it always made them better
  219. because Scalia nailed all the weak spots.
  220. We all need friends like that.
  221. We can't really do our jobs
    as citizens without them.
  222. In the end,
  223. what happens in the ivory tower
    doesn't stay in the ivory tower
  224. because today's student
    is tomorrow's leader.
  225. A diversity of ideas will make us
    better leaders, neighbors, voters,
  226. but only if we get a chance to hear them.
  227. Thank you.
  228. (Applause)