EDITORIAL: Former Stanford administrator says schools must embrace diversity of thought

Stanford University is one of the nation’s top academic institutions. As is the case with virtually every college these days, “diversity” is among the biggest buzzwords on campus and there’s a high-profile commitment to check all the politically correct boxes among the student body and instructors.

Notably absent in this cult of identity politics, however, is a dedication to diversity of thought.

But now an administrative leader who worked within the hallowed halls of Stanford for 17 years has admitted this shortcoming and the damage it’s causing at campuses around the country. John Etchemendy, who served as provost at Stanford from 2000-2017, recently gave a speech to the school’s Board of Trustees on future challenges in higher education. The most pressing concern? Diversity of thought, or as he termed it, “the threat from within.”

“I have watched a growing intolerance at universities in this country — not intolerance along racial or ethnic or gender lines — there, we have made laudable progress. Rather, a kind of intellectual intolerance, a political one-sidedness, that is the antithesis of what universities should stand for.”

Mr. Etchemendy notes the intolerance is found in “intellectual monocultures” in certain disciplines. There’s no doubt about that. A 2016 Econ Journal Watch study surveying faculty voter registration at 40 leading U.S. universities found that Democrats outnumbered Republicans by a ratio of 11.5-to-1. The Washington Times’ report on the study noted that even in economics, the ratio was 4.5-to-1, while in history it was a whopping 33.5-to-1.

Mr. Etchemendy also noted the trend of disinviting speakers and groups whose views are deemed invalid or offensive — again, conservatives are consistently on the short end here — in an effort to force universities to take political stands. That’s been seen in attempts to get colleges to divest themselves from any number of industries (fossil fuels often top the list) and even for schools to rescind any type of support for or business with Israel — the only democracy in the Middle East.

Said Mr. Etchemendy: “Universities must remain open forums for contentious debate, and they cannot do so while officially espousing one side of that debate.”

These are lessons that should be embraced by administrators at UNLV and UNR. (Mr. Etchemendy, a Reno native, holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UNR.) Both campuses have previously implemented dubious speech restrictions and a UNLV professor recently found himself caught in the campus PC maw over an innocuous online exchange with a student regarding immigration.

Mr. Etchemendy outlined how to start making improvements: “The first step is to remind our students and colleagues that those who hold views contrary to one’s own are rarely evil or stupid, and may know or understand things that we do not.”

Colleges across the country need to recognize that a groupthink echo chamber doesn’t make a campus diverse. To achieve true diversity, schools must encourage and embrace the free flow of thought across the political spectrum.

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