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Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Intellectual Diversity, the Wrong Way



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University of Colorado at Boulder chancellor Bud Peterson is concerned about intellectual diversity on campus. That’s a good thing. He’s trying to do something about it — also a good thing. But devils lie in details, and Peterson’s effort to endow a chair for the nation’s first professor of conservative thought and policy may do more to exacerbate than to resolve the issue at hand.

The two-year rotating position would involve teaching one course each semester, giving speeches throughout the state, and helping with research and courses in the department closest to the appointee’s area of expertise. Names are already being floated for the position; they include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, columnist George Will, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, and 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow. And therein lies the problem.

Conservative thought is a legitimate area of scholarly inquiry, and it would be entirely reasonable for any university to hire a specialist in that field. But there is a difference between hiring a specialist and hiring a practitioner; experts need not be advocates, and not all advocates are experts. Individuals of all political persuasions should be eligible for this job, and Peterson says they are — but the fact that those being named as possible candidates are all practicing conservatives should give us pause.

Universities should never hire faculty members on the basis of their beliefs. They should always make hiring decisions on the basis of candidates’ professional qualifications.



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