Left­ists can only lose when con­ser­va­tive views are ab­sent, says Musa al-Gharbi

If con­ser­va­tive views are not rep­re­sented in so­cial sci­ence re­search, left­ists will suf­fer most, warns Musa al-Gharbi

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - Musa al-Gharbi is Paul F. Lazars­feld fel­low in so­ci­ol­ogy at Columbia Univer­sity and a re­search as­so­ciate at the Hetero­dox Academy.

It is no longer a mat­ter of dis­pute whether in­creas­ing di­ver­sity of per­spec­tives en­riches un­der­stand­ing of so­cial is­sues. Con­ver­sa­tions about it typ­i­cally turn on ques­tions of race, gen­der and sex­u­al­ity. More re­cently, class, ge­og­ra­phy and the in­ter­sec­tions be­tween cat­e­gories of un­der-rep­re­sen­ta­tion have also re­ceived at­ten­tion.

How­ever, di­ver­sity of view­point re­mains con­tro­ver­sial. Many be­lieve that it is ac­cept­able – and even de­sir­able – to ex­clude non-pro­gres­sive per­spec­tives. In­deed, while in­creased ed­u­ca­tion mit­i­gates prej­u­dice on the grounds of fac­tors such as race, it ac­tu­ally ren­ders peo­ple more likely to dis­crim­i­nate against those who hold dif­fer­ent be­liefs.

In fact, while progress has been made since the 1990s in terms of rep­re­sen­ta­tion for women and racial mi­nor­ity groups, the ide­o­log­i­cal un­der-rep­re­sen­ta­tion prob­lem is grow­ing worse.

Although stu­dents are more likely to iden­tify as “lib­eral” or “pro­gres­sive” today than in the 1990s, fac­ulty have shifted much fur­ther to the left. Given early in­di­ca­tors that those in Gen­er­a­tion Z are more con­ser­va­tive than mil­len­ni­als in many re­spects, the ide­o­log­i­cal gap be­tween fac­ulty and stu­dents seems set to grow larger – not to men­tion the gap be­tween aca­demics and the main­stream US pop­u­la­tion.

Al­ready, in the hu­man­i­ties and so­cial sciences, the scale of ide­o­log­i­cal un­der-rep­re­sen­ta­tion is vastly more pro­nounced than dis­par­i­ties along the lines of gen­der, sex­u­al­ity or even race.

Of course, par­tic­u­lar in­sti­tu­tions need not strive for per­fect par­ity with the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion along any demographic di­men­sion. Af­ter all, un­der-rep­re­sen­ta­tion (or over-rep­re­sen­ta­tion) is of­ten a re­sult of se­lec­tion ef­fects. How­ever, it be­comes wor­ri­some un­der two con­di­tions. One is a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment and/or ac­tive dis­crim­i­na­tion. The other is if in­suf­fi­cient in­put from cer­tain con­stituen­cies low­ers re­search qual­ity and im­pact. Un­for­tu­nately, both of these con­di­tions seem to ap­ply.

There is ev­i­dence of ac­tive dis­crim­i­na­tion against con­ser­va­tives (and more broadly, a sup­pres­sion of views that defy the pre­vail­ing or­tho­doxy), and this does un­der­mine the ac­cu­racy and ef­fec­tive­ness of so­cial re­search.

Yet, those who recog­nise that lack of ide­o­log­i­cal di­ver­sity is a prob­lem are of­ten un­sure how much of a pri­or­ity ad­dress­ing it should be, com­pared with other forms of un­der-rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

Con­ser­va­tives have never been on the re­ceiv­ing end of sys­tem­atic op­pres­sion, ex­ploita­tion and ex­clu­sion on the ba­sis of their ide­ol­ogy in ways that even re­motely ap­proach how women have been sub­ju­gated on the ba­sis of their gen­der, or how blacks have been per­se­cuted on the ba­sis of their race. There­fore, even if we agree that it is wrong to dis­crim­i­nate against con­ser­va­tives, and even if we ac­knowl­edge that, in ab­so­lute terms, ide­o­log­i­cal un­der-rep­re­sen­ta­tion seems to be a big­ger prob­lem in so­cial re­search these days, there would still seem to be a greater nor­ma­tive ur­gency to ad­dress­ing racial or gen­der dis­par­i­ties.

This I do not doubt. How­ever, ide­o­log­i­cal di­ver­sity is not dis­tinct from other forms of di­ver­sity. In­deed, a com­mit­ment to em­pow­er­ing and de­fend­ing women, peo­ple of colour and other mi­nor­ity groups ac­tu­ally makes it more im­por­tant to pro­tect and en­hance free­doms of con­science, ex­pres­sion and en­quiry.

As Jonathan Haidt and I have pre­vi­ously demon­strated, it is pri­mar­ily women, mi­nori­ties and pro­gres­sives who suf­fer when free speech pro­tec­tions are un­der­mined on cam­pus. It is gen­er­ally women and peo­ple of colour – usu­ally pro­gres­sives – who pay the cost when ad­min­is­tra­tors are en­cour­aged to weigh into po­lit­i­cal dis­putes. These groups will also bear the brunt of con­tin­ued ero­sion of pub­lic trust in uni­ver­si­ties.

Given that women, peo­ple of colour, LGBTQ schol­ars and left­ists are bet­ter rep­re­sented in the hu­man­i­ties and so­cial sciences than in most other dis­ci­plines, they will dis­pro­por­tion­ately suf­fer when so­cial re­search is de­val­ued and de­funded.

It is for this rea­son that mi­nori­ties and pro­gres­sives must em­brace ide­o­log­i­cal di­ver­sity on cam­pus, and en­gage more with non-pro­gres­sives and peo­ple who are not aca­demics off cam­pus as well. Only this way will they be able to demon­strate to ev­ery­one else that they also have a voice, and a stake, in the en­ter­prise of so­cial re­search.

It is pri­mar­ily women, mi­nori­ties and pro­gres­sives who suf­fer when free speech pro­tec­tions are un­der­mined on cam­pus

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