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The Battle for Intellectual Diversity at Brown By: Christopher McAuliffe
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, August 17, 2005


April 26, 2004

Dear President Simmons,

Several of us had the opportunity to briefly speak with you regarding intellectual diversity at a recent meeting of the Undergraduate Council of Students.  We are pleased that you, along with other members of the administration, have taken an interest in ensuring that Brown’s focus on diversity actually affects a broad range of perspectives in our academic and social lives.  We are ourselves conservatives and libertarians, and find that we often disagree among ourselves on a variety of subjects.  However, we are naturally allied through our common concern that Brown should live up to its claim of offering a truly liberal education.  While we recognize that we will remain at odds with many aspects of Brown’s implementation of its mission, we would like to raise a few constructive proposals in the interest of ensuring the integrity of the mission itself.

 

At the UCS meeting, one of us raised the concern that there was nothing in the Black History Month itinerary for black conservatives.  You replied to the effect that it was the responsibility of black conservatives to change the situation.  On principle, we could not agree with you more.  However, we are concerned that this sort of response is unique to complaints regarding intellectual diversity.  Indeed, concerns regarding a lack of minority or women faculty seem to be greeted with utmost sympathy; trepidations among some members of the Brown Community that policies enacted in the interest of “diversity” actually have the effect of suppressing dissident voices are, by contrast, dismissed as being overblown, or even conspiratorial in nature.

 

The last thing we would wish to do is to compartmentalize right-of-center concerns in the manner of other identities at Brown.  We do not desire preferential hiring of conservatives, conservative scholarships, or a department of conservative studies.  Furthermore, we realize that in the foreseeable future, Brown is likely to attract a preponderance of left-of-center viewpoints among its students and faculty, and that this does not mean by default that conservatives are silenced or oppressed.  Still, we believe that Brown should not foster an academic environment in which not a few students and faculty are comfortable in the primitive assumption that conservatism and classical liberalism are nothing more than an opportunistic conflation of racism and social Darwinism.  Furthermore, we believe that pursuits undertaken in the interest of the entire Brown Community should represent that community as a whole, and not simply its most outspoken or politically fashionable components.  In the interest of fostering intellectual diversity in both the academic and extracurricular arenas, we believe it necessary to offer a few of our observations in conjunction with some limited suggestions.

 

We believe that it is crucial for the university to increase support for intellectually diverse points of view at Brown.  All of us have been frustrated with the lack of conservative and libertarian speakers on campus, as well as the difficulty in obtaining funding for such speakers.  To work toward a remedy, we suggest that the university send a clear message regarding its policy on intellectual diversity to sponsoring entities such as academic departments, the Third World Center, and the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center.  Furthermore, intellectual diversity should be more aggressively promoted by campus agencies which at present seem content to speak of “diversity” in only the most abstract of formulations.  For example, notices on Brown University letterhead inform all seniors that theses dealing with issues of diversity will be eligible for a cash prize.  We suggest a similar award for theses on the topic of capitalism and individual rights.

 

Last October, Professor of Political Science John Tomasi was instrumental in securing sponsorship from the Institute for Humane Studies for a two-day seminar featuring noteworthy scholars lecturing on such topics as free trade and individual freedom.  We recommend that this “Free Your Mind” conference become an annual event at Brown, with university sponsorship if necessary.  Steps such as these are necessary for the intellectual growth not just of conservative and libertarian students, but of liberals and progressives as well.

 

Brown must, in addition, reexamine its commitment to intellectual diversity within the classroom.  Many of us have noticed that even a very canonical course of study at Brown may include multiple readings of Rousseau, Marx, and Rawls, while utterly omitting such thinkers as Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, Friedrich Hayek, and Ludwig von Mises.  This has prompted many of us to become involved in Group Independent Studies Projects, covering conservatism last semester, and classical liberalism this semester.  Students should not, however, be saddled with individual responsibility for creating such courses if they wish for nothing more than to study classic and supremely important texts.  We therefore recommend that both of these GISPs be officially sanctioned as permanent, annual course offerings, and that faculty be hired as necessary to construct and teach such courses.

 

Perhaps the most important contribution to intellectual diversity Brown could make would be to ensure that committees and institutions it supports operate on a paradigm of “disinterested pursuit of knowledge,” especially when their purposes are advertised as such.  The Standing Committee on Slavery and Justice provides an example for how this could be achieved.  As intellectually curious individuals, we strongly support a good faith effort to explore the history of slavery, and to discuss what steps, if any, should be taken in the present toward achieving justice for historical crimes.  However, it would be myopic for conservative and libertarian students not to be suspicious of this undertaking in the context of past experience at Brown.  When, three years ago, the Brown Daily Herald ran a very mainstream (if imprudently worded) criticism of reparations, many students and faculty condemned it as racist, and the University was disturbingly equivocal in its defense of free speech.  The chairman of the current committee, while holding the view that it would be dreadful for a student of color to have to read these ideas, condemned the student editor of the Brown Daily Herald as a “cynical opportunist.”  What, we ask, will be different this time around?

 

Were David Horowitz to chair a similar committee, students of the left would be understandably suspicious that it was working toward a predetermined outcome.  Several members of the committee have, in the past, unashamedly linked racial liberation with an array of progressive political causes.  If partisan agendas, as is seemingly the case, have any place on this committee, then we certainly believe that contrarian voices should also be represented.  Furthermore, it is interesting to note that, despite the committee’s title, it includes not one member with an expertise on Justice in the realm of normative theory.  The university should rectify these oversights through whichever appointments are necessary to ensure that the committee’s pursuits are truly disinterested.  We will, furthermore, continually make suggestions to the committee in terms of how it can promote intellectual diversity in its undertakings.  A discussion of race and reparations would be truly disappointing without the expertise of such scholars as Thomas Sowell, Dinesh D’Souza, Stephan Thernstrom, Shelby Steele, and Walter Williams.  Still, because views similar to theirs have been summarily dismissed and derided at Brown in the past, we remain skeptical that the committee will result in the opening of a real dialogue.

 

Other university-funded institutions have apparently given up all pretense of being ideologically disinterested.  The Third World Center is only one example.  In its current incarnation, the Third World Center treats race and ethnicity as a proxy for political or cultural perspective.  That this perspective is leftist by default should not be surprising when one considers that the Third World Center is named for the ideas of Frantz Fanon, a radical Marxist who advocated violence as part of his “liberation ideology.”  We believe that nothing could be more alienating for a conservative or libertarian student of color.

 

The preponderance of post-colonialist theory and race victimology promoted by TWC-sponsored events is itself a cause for concern, and most certainly works to discourage differently-minded students from becoming involved.  The mission statement of the TWC cites “a necessity for people of color to define themselves instead of being defined by others,” while in practice it seeks to define them as an intellectually homogenous group.  That this is done by other people of color should make no difference.  We recommend that the University take real steps to promote intellectual diversity within the Third World Center and, at the very least, consider a less archaic and more inclusive name for the Center.

 

As a corollary, we could not help but notice the recent embarrassment the University suffered due to confusion about its Third World Transition Program policies.  Headlines such as “TWTP to be open to all students, but whites still not invited” send a mixed message, and give the impression that some people may be less than happy that Brown has sought to open up this program.  The University should unequivocally state its policy regarding TWTP and the role of diversity in general.  If, as it claims, the Third World Center wishes to “promote racial and ethnic pluralism,” it cannot also promote segregation.

 

In summation, we ask simply that the university acknowledge its past failures in the area of intellectual diversity, and work to correct them.  It has been said that the contemporary American academy has supplanted the erstwhile ideal of the “disinterested acquisition of knowledge” with one which more closely adheres to the “pursuit of social justice.”  Whatever motivations lie behind the latter ideal, they cannot help but be politically loaded.  This fear is borne out by the oft-heard claim of certain persons and institutions at Brown that any ideology, save their own, must be pernicious or “unsafe.”  We believe that this university has given us a world-class education, but we are still awaiting the day when we can maintain that Brown offers a truly liberal education.

 

Signed,

 

Christopher McAuliffe ‘05

 

*

 

Intellectual diversity has been all the rage at Brown this semester. So far, the Brown Daily Herald has featured no fewer than six articles directly addressing the subject.  President Ruth Simmons devoted the better part of her Spring Semester Opening Address to issues of intellectual diversity at Brown. Even many professors have been recently opining on their support for this suddenly chic phenomenon. Given all the newfound interest in intellectual diversity at Brown, one is tempted to believe that there are good reasons to be hopeful for the University’s future.

 

And indeed there are. It is a significant development in itself that the Brown community has begun to associate “diversity” with differences which are more than skin deep. President Simmons’s choice of topics for her Opening Address was more than symbolic. It marked the first time since the dawn of the politically-correct era that such a high-ranking administrator has admitted that the lack of intellectual diversity at Brown is a tangible detriment to the quality of education offered here. A lazier administrator could have easily stopped at that point, but Simmons took the extra step of proposing concrete solutions to a real problem. The new fund she created to address this very issue has already been put to good use; it was crucial in funding the March 14th appearance by Dinesh D’Souza.

 

Despite such positive steps, much remains to be done. Perhaps most disappointing is the failure of many in the Brown community to reach a true understanding of what conservatives actually mean when we speak of intellectual diversity; perhaps some of that failure is our own. In calling for the university to rededicate itself to its mission of providing a truly liberal education, conservatives should be clear that we are not in favor of extending affirmative action to the realm of ideological viewpoints. Such a move could result in nothing other than, in the words of Dinesh D’Souza, an “Illiberal Education.”

 

What proponents of intellectual diversity, liberal or conservative, should be calling for is an end to the iron-fisted reign of overt political agendas over certain university departments and centers. Brown’s freshman orientation program remains mired in political correctness, and the entirety of racial and gender politics at this institution still have not advanced far beyond crude socialist theories. Intellectual diversity will score its greatest victory the day that the Third World Center exists, as it already claims to, for the betterment of all students of color, without assumption as to what their political beliefs are or should be. That day has not yet come, but given recent developments, cautious optimism is a reasonable sentiment.




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