Viewpoint diversity in the academy is alarmingly low, and the next generation of academics is likely to be even less tolerant of opposing views, professors from various institutions told a New York University audience Tuesday night.
This is an historical anomaly, according to April Kelly-Woessner, a political science professor at Elizabethtown College: The more educated a person is, the more tolerant of other opinions that person is likely to be.
But the younger generation is bucking the trend, showing less ideological tolerance than their parents, Kelly-Woessner said.
Today’s students are also more accepting of authoritarian views, especially when it comes to responding to ideas and views with which they don’t agree, said Samuel Abrams, a political science professor at Sarah Lawrence College who is known for his research on lopsided political views in various academic disciplines.
The troubling environment for free speech on campus and within academic disciplines is worsened by the political rise of Donald Trump and his rougher-edged approach to conservatism, professors said.
The event was co-sponsored by Heterodox Academy, an organization founded by NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt that promotes academic viewpoint diversity, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. It was livestreamed on Facebook as part of FIRE’s “So to Speak” podcast.
‘The big question is who gets to define what’s intolerant’
Abrams said his research found there are now eight liberal professors in higher education for every conservative, and students are increasingly less exposed to different lines of thinking.
Mainstream Americans consider themselves to be fairly centrist, a concept that is foreign to faculty, he said. They don’t just lean left: “They are strongly left, strongly progressive, and this [is] completely off from what the average American does.”
Abrams himself said he “kept his head down” until he earned tenure, after which he was able to safely become much more outspoken in favor of intellectual diversity. He encouraged other professors with tenure to do the same because those without it cannot speak out as freely.
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