On Wednesday, President Peter Salovey announced the creation of a “presidential task force on diversity and inclusion.” The group should begin where Yale is perhaps most deficient: intellectual diversity.
In 2012, according to the News, 97 percent of political contributions from Yale employees went to Democrats. Yale beat all other Ivies in this category; Dartmouth, at 78 percent, came in last.
And ask yourself: how many professors at Yale defend — and accept — the immorality of abortion, the impropriety of gay marriage, a hawkish foreign policy, the importance of religion in the public square (or anywhere else), the perversity of race-based affirmative action or the justice of free-market capitalism? Not many. But these positions are held by millions of Americans. They help comprise the platform of the political party in control of the House, the Senate and 32 of 50 governorships. They have able proponents in newspapers and magazines. I would bet that four in five Yalies disagree with most or all of them. And few other than some renegades in the Yale Political Union are willing to promote them.
This means Yale is splurging on the educations of conservative and religious students, while skimping on Yale’s liberal, secular plurality. Right-wing students needn’t wait for lunch before encountering a master, dean or professor willing to challenge them. These students’ assumptions are sacrilegious to many. Their privilege is checked, their opinions castigated, their concerns criticized and their conclusions derided. And no one provides spaces where these students may safely process a difficult experience they had that day. Who could ask for an environment more conducive to growth, agility and rigor than the one provided today to the average conservative Catholic Eli?
None of this is to impugn the liberal-mindedness of Yale’s faculty, or to question the interest they take in all their students’ educations. I have never heard of a teacher sneer at a conservative student for thinking as she did. Nor is it to say there are not very interesting disputes among liberals.
Rather, opinions affect the questions that we think important to ask at the beginning of a discussion, as well as the thoughts we have at the end of it. That’s because most thoughts are not isolated sound bites, but part of an integrated metaphysics, ethics and politics. Liberals think differently from conservative not just in the trivial sense that they vote differently, but because they have different ideas of what makes an argument good in the first place.
There are ways a conservative will naturally bend one’s mind that are different from the ways a liberal will. What is the practical consequence of having almost no conservative faculty? After all, Bass Library has at least two copies of Russell Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind” awaiting any curious leftist.
Consider the case of Silliman Associate Master Erika Christakis’ Halloween email. I don’t wish to address the arguments in her email. I want only to point out that Yale did not really get the chance to do so. The email was greeted by histrionic outrage and condemnation. Students claimed they felt “unsafe.” Dozens accosted and screamed at her husband, Silliman Master Nicholas Christakis. Many argued that the Christakises had traversed the bounds of their roles in Silliman, with some so disgusted that they threatened to transfer out.
The reaction of hundreds of Yale students to an argument with which they vehemently disagreed, in other words, was to protest, accuse and condemn, rather than to dispute. They did not want to have a discussion. In words that should shame our entire school, one student yelled, “It is not about creating an intellectual space!” One cannot know the exact cause of this widespread illiberalism, but might it have something to do with the narrow range of political opinions defended by the adults at Yale? Many students may go four years thinking that some very serious ideas are simply irrational, because among Yale’s brilliant teachers, there is almost no one who offers them.
Princeton professor Robert George recently spoke at Yale about intellectual diversity. Among his points was the danger of everyone thinking as those around them do. This is how intellectual orthodoxies form, and orthodoxies beget lazy inquiry. Worse, as the decidedly liberal Erika Christakis discovered, they narrow what the late journalist Christopher Hitchens called “the limits of permissible thought,” making a campus a difficult place to dissent.
Yale should not hire worse faculty simply because they are conservative. If anything, it should raise its standards for espousers of views many of its students have not heard from a Yale professor.
This new task force might wish to consider the different kinds of diversity truly necessary for a good education and a complete University. To not do so would be a scandalous abdication. The victims would be Yale’s liberal students.
Cole Aronson is a sophomore in Calhoun College. His column runs on Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .