Promoting intellectual diversity on campus, a legislative proposal

Stanley Kurtz has devoted the past few years to working tirelessly throughout the U.S. to persuade state legislatures to pass effective legislation protecting campus free speech at public universities. He has made progress. I wrote about this project here and here.

Now, Stanley has a new, related project. He’s trying to address the lack of intellectual diversity on American campuses, which he sees as the cause of the free speech crisis. He discusses his effort here.

The problem is real. It’s documented by George La Noue, professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in his forthcoming book, Silenced Stages: The Loss of Academic Freedom and Campus Policy Debates.

According to Stanley:

La Noue researched this issue by investigating on-campus policy debates, and forums where divergent viewpoints were presented, in 24 areas of national policy, including income inequality, LGBT issues, regulatory policy, U.S. role in the Middle East, criminal justice, electoral politics, and gun policies, among others. He accessed campus calendars for 2014 and 2015 in a stratified national sample of 97 universities and colleges and 28 law schools enrolling 991,802 students annually.

La Noue concludes that: “For most students in American higher education, the opportunity to hear on-campus debates about important public policy issues does not exist.” A few elite universities and law schools were somewhat better at sponsoring policy debates than the great majority of other schools, but although environmental and health policy were frequent topics, “immigration, abortion, government financing, international trade, speech, sexual assault, affirmative action, and even gun policies were almost never debated publicly on campus in 2014 and 2015.”

What is to be done? As as he did with the issue of campus free speech, Stanley has developed model legislation to address the lack of intellectual diversity on campus. He calls it The Campus Intellectual Diversity Act.

The intellectual diversity problem appears less amenable to a legislative solution than the free speech problem. Legislating to protect free speech seems relatively straightforward. Punish violators, among other steps. Legislating to promote the existence of certain kind of speech seems more problematic, at least at first blush.

Here’s what Stanley has come up with:

Universities can be directed to establish an Office of Public Policy Events (or to assign its duties to an existing administrative office). The new office would have two key responsibilities. First, the office should arrange for debates, panel discussions, and individual lectures from a wide diversity of viewpoints on current public-policy disputes. Participants should be drawn from across the political spectrum, but the office should give particular attention to inviting speakers who hold viewpoints otherwise poorly represented on campus.

Second, the office should compile and make public a list not only of the events that it sponsors, but of all events related to public affairs on the campus as a whole. Any debate, policy forum, or individual speaking event open to the entire campus community should be included on the list, with the topic, event title, participants, affiliations, and sponsorship noted. The result will be a yearly event calendar from which the extent and breadth of public-affairs debate on campus will be evident to both the university community and the general public.

In practice, would this proposal actually promote intellectual diversity? Or would administrators and faculty continue to construct one-sided events, notwithstanding the existence of an Office of Public Policy Events tasked with staging debates, policy forums, and individual lectures from a wide range of perspectives? Stanley answers the question this way:

Administrators at public universities take their relationships with the legislatures that authorize their funding very seriously. Once they are responsible for compiling and publishing a detailed public record of campus-policy events, it will be difficult to keep them one-sided, particularly in the face of an explicit legislative directive to the contrary. The existence of an office (or individual administrator) specifically responsible for promoting intellectual diversity in campus speaking events will make it especially difficult to avoid administrative accountability.

It’s worth a try. For as Stanley concludes:

The disappearance of intellectual diversity on America’s college campuses is at the root of the campus free-speech crisis, and of America’s increasingly frayed political culture. The Campus Intellectual Diversity Act can help to solve these problems, while still respecting the independence of professors in the classroom.

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