Man Bites Dog at Stanford


John Etchemendy

I’ve mentioned before that I wonder whether job placement ads for college presidents and senior administrators include the proviso, “spinal removal required.” Because college administrators and administration are a larger part of the problem in higher education today that leftist faculty: administrators crumple before every demand of identity-politics pressure groups.

Hence it is remarkable to see the Stanford News article “The Threat from Within” yesterday from its former provost, John Etchemendy, observing that the biggest threat to higher education today is the narrow ideological conformity of universities. Some of the relevant parts:

Over the years, 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. It manifests itself in many ways: in the intellectual monocultures that have taken over certain disciplines; in the demands to disinvite speakers and outlaw groups whose views we find offensive; in constant calls for the university itself to take political stands. We decry certain news outlets as echo chambers, while we fail to notice the echo chamber we’ve built around ourselves.

This results in a kind of intellectual blindness that will, in the long run, be more damaging to universities than cuts in federal funding or ill-conceived constraints on immigration. It will be more damaging because we won’t even see it: We will write off those with opposing views as evil or ignorant or stupid, rather than as interlocutors worthy of consideration. We succumb to the all-purpose ad hominem because it is easier and more comforting than rational argument. But when we do, we abandon what is great about this institution we serve. . .

We need to encourage real diversity of thought in the professoriate, and that will be even harder to achieve. It is hard for anyone to acknowledge high-quality work when that work is at odds, perhaps opposed, to one’s own deeply held beliefs. But we all need worthy opponents to challenge us in our search for truth. It is absolutely essential to the quality of our enterprise.

Good for Etchemendy Now let’s see if Stanford will take any meaningful action. I keep hearing reports of how it is increasingly difficult for the Hoover Institution to bring on new people. Hoover supposedly has some nominal independence from Stanford but has to get administration sign-off for all its scholarly hires, and is experiencing increasing administration resistance to hiring any “controversial” conservatives.