The Neglected Importance of Intellectual Diversity
While efforts to increase diversity in America’s workforce and education systems seem to have improved dramatically over the past decade, one area in particular has been left to the wayside. Intellectual diversity, more commonly known as “differences in opinion,” has been seriously neglected across the US and is often not considered a viable form of diversity at all. Such neglection creates an atmosphere of intolerance and actively hinders progress. In the workplace, different ideas lead to thoughtful conversations and new solutions. If everyone thought alike, then there would be a significant lack of innovative and creative ideas and no system in place to provide opposition to existing ideas. On college campuses, admissions officers are constantly seeking to boost diversity with every incoming freshman class, and yet intellectual diversity is never included in admissions statistics. Obviously, diversity of opinions is not easily expressed by pure data, but the fact that it is hardly ever mentioned at all is a worrying indication that colleges value certain forms of diversity over other forms of diversity. Unfortunately, college campuses can be notorious for their intolerance towards differing opinions. George Will, an opinion writer for The Washington Post who wrote about the importance of intellectual diversity in an article published last year, said that “encouraging developments are as welcome as they are rare in colleges and universities that cultivate diversity in everything but thought.” Diversity is clearly a top priority for colleges, and for good reason. A diverse student body promotes thoughtful conversations, while a diverse staff of professors provides a variety of relatable role models to students and leads to constructive dialogues within the realms of the classroom. Unfortunately, one specific group in particular is severely underrepresented among campus professors. As I mentioned earlier, it is challenging to collect data on differing opinions; however, political affiliation provides an accurate approximation of what differing opinions exist and how they are treated. A recent study of 40 top US colleges indicates that professors who are registered as Democrats outnumber professors who are registered as Republicans at a ratio of just over 11 to 1. Such a staggering imbalance of political opinion indicates a significant lack of intellectual diversity, and colleges show little sign of working to improving that imbalance.
The lack of intellectual diversity on college campuses is also evident amongst its student population. The percentage of college students who favor actively censoring “controversial” speech has risen dramatically over the past few decades. According to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, 43% of college students “agree strongly” or “agree somewhat” that colleges have the right to ban “extreme speakers” from campus, nearly twice as high as it was during the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Unfortunately, what defines an extreme speaker as “extreme” is entirely subjective; there is no way to determine what makes someone worthy of being banned from campus without being clouded by personal biases, and most people only designate opinions they disagree with as “extreme.” Exposure to different opinions challenges our beliefs, which can reinforce our current beliefs or force us to reevaluate. If colleges don’t start hiring professors for the sake of intellectual diversity in the same way that they’ve successfully improved diversity in other areas, then campuses are doomed to remain echo-chambers.
A lack of intellectual diversity in the workplace has also become an increasing concern. One of the most recent controversies is that of James Damore, an engineer who was fired from Google for expressing his concerns about how the company was being run and providing potential solutions to the issues he had raised, many of which were considered controversial by his coworkers. Among other things, Damore claimed that biological differences between men and women, not societal oppression, are responsible for the diminished female presence in STEM positions, and that Google’s policy of attempting to reach a 50/50 split between its male and female workers was discriminatory and damaging to the business. Danielle Brown, Google’s Vice President of Diversity, reprimanded Damore in a memo to the entire company stating that Damore had “… advanced incorrect assumptions about gender.” By accusing Damore of being incorrect about gender, Brown implied that correct answers exist in a field where scholarly experts admit that multiple perspectives still exist. Damore’s memo was written in a polite and organized manner, and yet he was fired from Google because, in his own words, “Google unfairly discriminates against white men whose political views are unpopular with its executives.” By firing workers who contradict popular opinion, companies like Google can actually be hindering diversity. Unless intellectual diversity is treated in the same manner as other forms of diversity, then the American workplace will become like many college campuses- ideologically homogeneous.
Obviously, there are possible downsides to promoting intellectual diversity. In an ideal world, different people with different ideas would come together, find common ground, and move forward. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world, and some opinions are more harmful than others. Companies and colleges shouldn’t necessarily dictate what people can and cannot say, but lines ought to be drawn somewhere. The topic of intellectual diversity is strongly tied with the issue of free speech, something which I have written about in a previous article. Free speech is incredibly difficult to regulate, which means that determining which opinions are acceptable or not is also a huge challenge. However, there are still realistic and tangible changes that companies and colleges can make to increase their intellectual diversity. If college campuses hire more conservative-leaning professors and companies aren’t so quick to expel employees who stray from the commonly held beliefs of the organization, then intellectual diversity will have a chance to thrive like it should do.
Damore, James. “The Document That Got Me Fired from Google.” Fired For Truth, 8 Aug. 2017, firedfortruth.com/2017/08/08/first-blog-post/.
Geher, Glenn. “Diversity Includes Intellectual Diversity.” Psychology Today, 12 Aug. 2017, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/darwins-subterranean-world/201708/diversity-includes-intellectual-diversity.
Loizos, Connie. “ James Damore Just Filed a Class Action Lawsuit against Google, Saying It Discriminates against White Male Conservatives.” Tech Crunch, 8 Jan. 2018, techcrunch.com/2018/01/08/james-damore-just-filed-a-class-action-lawsuit-against-google-saying-it-discriminates-against-white-male-conservatives/.
Lynch, Dr. Matthew. “Diversity in College Faculty Just as Important as Student Body.” Diverse Education, 24 Apr. 2013, diverseeducation.com/article/52902/.
Rampell, Catherine. “Liberal Intolerance Is on the Rise on America’s College Campuses.” The Washington Post, 11 Feb. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/liberal-but-not-tolerant-on-the-nations-college-campuses/2016/02/11/0f79e8e8-d101-11e5-88cd-753e80cd29ad_story.html?utm_term=.c9e45e56fe25.
Richardson, Bradford. “Liberal Professors Outnumber Conservatives Nearly 12 to 1, Study Finds.” The Washington Times, 6 Oct. 2016, www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/oct/6/liberal-professors-outnumber-conservatives-12-1/.
Will, George F. “The Intellectual Diversity We Need.” The Washington Post, 10 Mar. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-intellectual-diversity-we-need/2017/03/10/a88b0172-0515-11e7-b9fa-ed727b644a0b_story.html?utm_term=.32395b719865.