Higher Education Watch
What Kind of Diversity Matters at Yale?

A Yale faculty committee, formed in response to left-wing student protests, has released a scathing document criticizing the University’s commitment to diversity issues. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

Yale University has failed repeatedly to execute ambitious plans to diversify its faculty, praised inclusion while enabling a climate hostile to many female and minority professors and graduate students, and experienced a “lost decade” where budget tightening eroded earlier gains in diversifying the professoriate. […]

“This is a devastating account of where Yale has been and where it is,” Kathryn Lofton, a professor of religious studies and deputy dean for diversity and faculty development in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, wrote in an email. “It will determine how we organize to get somewhere better. We have no other option but to improve.”

We are in no position to assess the merits of the 98-page study, but it’s worth pointing out one thing that’s missing: While the authors were concerned with diversity of “gender, race, and ethnicity” as well as “the intersection of these categories with sexuality, age, and class,” there was no effort to grapple with diversity of politics, religion, or viewpoint (though the authors acknowledged that such factors “could” be taken into account in a future report).

The omission of intellectual diversity is especially notable given other news from Yale earlier this week: Two professors who had been vilified for months by militant students for questioning campus diversity dogma (in particular, whether the University should regulate student Halloween costumes to protect other students from offense) announced their resignation. As Conor Friedersdorf reports in the Atlantic, the episode has widely been perceived as a devastating blow to intellectual pluralism at Yale:

Last fall, student protesters at Yale University demanded that Professor Nicholas Christakis, an academic star who has successfully mentored Ivy League undergraduates for years, step down from his position as faculty-in-residence at Silliman College, along with his wife, Erika Christakis, who shared in the job’s duties.

The protesters had taken offense at an email sent by Erika Christakis.

Dogged by the controversy for months, the couple finally resigned their posts Wednesday. Because the student protests against them were prompted by intellectual speech bearing directly on Erika Christakis’s area of academic expertise, the outcome will prompt other educators at Yale to reflect on their own positions and what they might do or say to trigger or avoid calls for their own resignations. If they feel less inclined toward intellectual engagement at Yale, I wouldn’t blame them.

Racial and gender diversity are important, but so is intellectual diversity. As Jason Willick wrote in March: “An academic class in thrall to a political orthodoxy will naturally be less likely to challenge ideas that fall within this orthodoxy, and more likely to reject, wholesale, ideas that fall outside it.” It’s hard to see how students can get a high-quality liberal arts education, and how faculty can produce cutting-edge research, in an environment that makes so little room for debate, disagreement and dissent.

Yale is bending over to meet the demands of the activists who effectively forced out the Christakises, commissioning faculty reports like this one, and even committing $50 million to new racial and gender diversity initiatives. Is it willing to devote comparable resources to protecting intellectual diversity and promoting freedom of thought? Apparently not—but then again, we already knew that.

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