American higher education is dominated by leftists, many of them so secure in their opinions that the other side is merely caricatured or smeared. One professor who sees that as a problem is Indiana University sociologist Fabio Rojas. In today’s Martin Center article, he argues that we need intellectual desegregation to break down groupthink and conformity.
He writes, “The academy is a church of skeptics. Progress is made when people are allowed to disagree. In the humanities and social sciences, a dominant mainstream may prevent questions that will deepen inquiry and identify errors and biases.”
That mainstream is too often content to dismiss opposing views without making any effort at understanding them. Rojas points to the way the leftist professoriate overwhelmingly praised Duke historian Nancy MacLean’s book Democracy in Chains even though it was a feeble hatchet job on Nobel laureate James Buchanan and Public Choice theory. “The first step toward intellectual desegregation is quality control — academics of all stripes need to stop relying on inaccurate smears of the other side,” Rojas writes.
What the academy needs is a new mindset (or a return to the older mindset) where scholars strive for engagement and understanding, not trying to score points for their side. Rojas correctly notes, “Once we modify our self-perception and move from a highly partisan view of scholarship to a more balanced one, then we open ourselves up to genuine conversations with writers who hold radically different views. This approach to academic life is not to surrender to the other side. It is a sign of maturity and enlightenment.”
He’s right, but so far the academics who favor engagement and understanding are voices crying in the wilderness. Let us hope they make real progress in 2020.