Walking along Hope Street last night, I passed by an unlit colonial era house I had never noticed before. The door was open. Back in the South, where I'm from, an open door is a common invitation for a passer by to come in and visit. After hesitating for a second, I entered.
"Hello!" I said in my most nonthreatening voice. "Anybody home?" I walked through the entrance hall to a closed door. A sliver of flickering light surrounded the door's rim. I knocked, waited and entered. An old man's voice rose from a big easy chair in the middle of the nondescript room. "I've been expecting you." The old man's chair sat across from another, empty chair. Together, the chairs formed a triangle with a roaring fire. "Sit down," he said. I sat.
"What's on your mind?" he asked.
Something about the situation made me feel as if I were speaking with an old friend. The usual fluff talk just wasn't necessary. I'm not sure why, but a wave of comfort and familiarity came over me.
I got right to the point, the one thing I'd been thinking about for the past hour. "Horowitz. David Horowitz. He came to talk tonight. You might have heard about it."
"Indeed. What did you think?"
"I thought he had some really good points. From all the campus gossip about him, I was expecting some bigoted behemoth, but he was well spoken. I didn't agree with everything he said, but a lot of it was very thought provoking. I'm definitely glad I went."
"What didn't you agree with?" the old man asked.
"Horowitz made the point that among Brown professors, there is a 30:1 ratio of Democrats to Republicans. He compared this to the 10:1 average among the 32 elite colleges he surveyed. While he admitted that voter registration records are a rough guide to a faculty's political leanings, the statistic definitely gives me pause."
"It seems kind of absurd," I said to the old man. "I'm tempted to agree with Horowitz that such one sidedness isn't good for the school. I mean, take the College Republicans. I've heard they're something of a joke among College Republicans nationwide. But this isn't their fault. In order to avoid being outcasts here, they've had to move really far to the left of the national party line."
"And you're worried about the College Republicans?" he asked.
"Not really. They're well spoken and they stand up for what they believe in. I respect that. But it makes me wonder whether the average Democratic, Green or revolutionary socialist Brown student isn't similarly out of touch."
The old man paused, letting the silence hang. After a while, he said, "When he speaks about the need for intellectual diversity, Horowitz likes to say, 'You can't get a good education if you're only getting half the story.' If you've read any presidential biographies, you know great leaders surround themselves with people who disagree with them."
"I realize we don't have a lot of conservatives, but I don't see what's wrong with that," I told him. "Brown is a liberal place. We attract liberal students and faculty. I'm all for affirmative action and racial diversity, but intellectual diversity? I don't think it really matters. We're not that kind of school."
Again the old man paused, collecting his thoughts. "So you believe in affirmative action? You believe it is legal?"
"Sure. The Supreme Court said so this summer."
"What reasoning did the Supreme Court give?"
"Oh, I think I remember. The majority ruling asserted that quotas and point systems aren't kosher, but that a university can consider a person's race if it is trying to pursue a diversity of perspectives."
The old man nodded. "Let me present you with a series of assumptions. Assumption #1: Would it be safe to say that if you believe in the legality of affirmative action, then you believe in a general diversity of perspectives?"
"Yeah. I mean, that's why the Supreme Court let affirmative action remain at the University of Michigan. Racial preferences are justified in the pursuit of a 'general diversity of perspectives,' like you said."
"Moving on to Assumption #2: If you believe in a general diversity of perspectives, then you believe in a diversity of political perspectives. Do yu accept that?"
"Yeah. That makes sense."
"We've established that Brown is lacking in intellectual diversity, right?"
"So, Assumption #3: If you believe in a diversity of political perspectives, you disapprove of Brown's lack of political diversity."
"I see what you're saying. You're saying that if I think affirmative action should be legal, then I should disapprove of Brown's dearth of political diversity."
"Or conversely," the old man responded, "if you're not outspoken about the lack of Brown's political diversity, you don't believe affirmative action should be legal."
"That's quite a statement," I said. "Not a lot of people are going to like it."
"But is it false? Are any of my individual assumptions incorrect? People might have different reasons for believing in affirmative action, but if you want it to be legal, then you have only one choice. If you don't accept that choice, then the Supreme Court doesn't accept your arguments, and affirmative action is down the drain."
"I never really thought about it like that."
"Exactly. If you support affirmative action, then you should be upset by the lack of diverse political perspectives at Brown. If you're not upset by this, then you're a hypocrite."
And with that, the old man fell silent.