Bi-Weekly Discussion - Do Colleges Need Academic Freedom & Political Diversity?

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Provided the weather is nice, I plan to hold this meetup in Washington Square Park, between 6th & 7th Streets on Walnut in Olde City. If you don't want to sit on the grass, just bring a folding chair or picnic blanket to sit on. You can also bring any type of food or drink you want, although I don't think alcohol is allowed in the park.

(If it looks like it'll rain, we'll move our discussion to nearby Café Walnut, right off the park on the corner of 7th & Walnut.)

The park is fairly easy to get to if you're using public transit. With SEPTA, take the Market-Frankford Line & get off at the 5th Street Station (corner of 5th & Market), and walk 2 blocks south on 5th and then turn right on Walnut Street and walk 1 block west. With PATCO, just get off at the 9th-10th & Locust stop and walk 3 blocks east. For those who are driving, parking in the neighborhood can be tough to find. If you can't find a spot on the street, I'd suggest parking in the Washington Square parking deck at 249 S 6th Street which is just a half block away.

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ACADEMIC FREEDOM & POLITICAL DIVERSITY ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES

INTRODUCTION - THE UNIVERSITY & THE PUBLIC SPHERE:

This meetup and the next will focus on two major institutions - universities and the news media - that make up a major part of what the political philosopher Jürgen Habermas calls the "public sphere" - i.e. areas in social life where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion influence political action. Public debate takes place mostly through the mass media, but also at town meetings & classrooms, as well as through social media, academic publications and government policy documents. Habermas lists three "institutional criteria" as preconditions for the emergence of the type of public sphere that he sees as a necessary precondition for the type of liberal democracy he favors, which he calls "participatory democracy": (1) Disregard of Status, (2) a Domain of Common Concern, and (3) Inclusivity. Wikipedia gives a decent summary of Habermas's theory of the public sphere and several critiques and alternative models of the public sphere:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_sphere

The concept of the "public sphere" is often compared to the philosopher of science Karl Popper's notion of the "open society". Popper believed that knowledge is provisional and fallible implies that society must be open to alternative points of view. Popper saw non-democratic societies like absolute monarchies & theocracies, as well as communism & fascism, as "closed societies" where the governing authority's claims to certain knowledge and ultimate truth lead to the attempted imposition of one version of reality and impositions on freedom of thought & speech. In contrast, in the type of liberal democratic "open society" Popper envisioned, each citizen needs to engage in critical thinking, which requires freedom of thought and expression and the cultural and legal institutions that can facilitate this.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_society

Popper did recognize a limitation on the open society in the form of the "paradox of tolerance" - i.e. exercising unlimited tolerance would mean allowing freedom of speech & political participation by intolerant groups could lead to the end of the open society & end of tolerance if the intolerant group attained power.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox_of_tolerance

While Popper was often concerned with safeguarding the type of public sphere that would yield robust empirical claims, other philosophers like John Rawls emphasized the need for a public sphere to provide justification for moral claims through what he called "reflective equilibrium". Reflective equilibrium is a state of stability & coherence among a set of beliefs arrived at by a process of deliberative mutual adjustment. The method of reflective equilibrium determines a set of rational principles rooted in humans' intuitive sense of justice, which both provides the material for the process of reflection & deliberation and our motivation to adhere to principles we judge morally sound. This serves the aim of defining a realistic & stable social order by determining a practically coherent set of principles that are grounded in the source of our moral motivation, such that most citizens will be disposed to comply with them.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reflective_equilibrium

When we combine the concepts of the "open society" and "reflective equilibrium", we can see that open & closed societies are each engaged in an implicit type of cost-benefit analysis, and that open societies appear preferable to any closed society which does not possess complete knowledge & perfect ethics. Closed societies are generally based on the idea that the authorities possess the "Truth" and citizens must be trained to accept this "Truth" and punished if they question or reject it. Thus, closed societies run the risk on not getting enough "up-take" or "buy-in" from citizens to make the political order stable, as well as the serious possibility that the official "Truth" is wrong & locks society into sub-optimal outcomes. Open societies run the risk of temporarily settling on beliefs that are wrong & sub-optimal policies, but the hope is that the social order will be more stable due to wider "buy-in" and that further deliberation can allow for progress. Of course, progress can be messy and open societies may appear less stable than closed societies in the short term.

With the above in mind, this meetup will look at how some current trends at American universities relate to the concepts of the public sphere, open society & reflective equilibrium. In particular we will look at academic freedom & intellectual diversity among professors at public universities, and their effect of the progress of the humanities & social sciences in particular. We'll also address conservative concerns that colleges are becoming "liberal indoctrination centers" and liberal concerns that the recent decline in conservatives' trust in college professors may set off a "war on colleges" in terms of restrictive legislation & funding cuts.

NOTE: While this meetup will focus mostly on the free speech rights for college professors, but there's a Skeptics meetup directly after our meetup (from 3-5pm) that will look at free speech as it's exercised by visiting speakers & college students. To check out the outline for that discussion & RSVP, go here:
https://www.meetup.com/Philly-Skeptics/events/250590144/

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DIRECTIONS ON HOW TO PREPARE FOR OUR DISCUSSION:

The videos & articles you see linked below are intended to give you a basic overview of some of the major debates over academic freedom & intellectual diversity in universities. As usual, I certainly don't expect you to read all the articles & watch all the videos prior to attending our discussion. The easiest way to prepare for our discussion is to just watch the numbered videos linked under each section - the videos come to about 43 minutes total. The articles marked with asterisks are just there to supply additional details. You can browse and look at whichever ones you want, but don't worry - we'll cover the stuff you missed in our discussion. In terms of the discussion format, my general idea is that we'll address the topics in the order presented here. I figure we'll spend about 30 minutes on the 1st section, 40 minutes on the 2nd & 3rd section (discussed together), and 40 minutes on the 4th & 5th section (discussed together).

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I. ACADEMIC FREEDOM & TENURE:

- WHAT DOES "ACADEMIC FREEDOM" ENTAIL, AND HOW MUCH OF IT IS A SOCIAL NORM AS OPPOSED TO FORMAL LAW? DOES ACADEMIC FREEDOM ONLY EXIST AT PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES, OR PRIVATE COLLEGES AS WELL?

- ARE COURTS TODAY LESS WILLING TO PROTECT THE 1st AMENDMENT RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF SPEECH OF TENURED PROFESSORS? DO NON-TENURED FACULTY MEMBERS HAVE THE SAME 1st AMENDMENT RIGHTS?

- DO COLLEGE PROFESSORS HAVE LESS CONTROL OVER THEIR CURRICULA & RESEARCH TODAY THAN IN THE PAST? IS THIS DUE TO THE DECLINE OF TENURE TRACK POSITIONS?

- CAN & SHOULD ACADEMIC FREEDOM BE EXTENDED TO NON-TENURED FACULTY, OR WOULD THAT JUST ENCOURAGE FIRING ON PRETEXTS?

- DO FACULTY IN FIELDS THAT ARE LESS POLITICALLY CONTENTIOUS (E.G. BUSINESS & S.T.E.M.) NEED ACADEMIC FREEDOM?

1) Daniel Hamermesh vs Naomi Schaefer Riley, "A Debate on University Tenure" (video - 8:13 min, start at 0:07)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=7&v=OI2moR1KMMM

* Cary Nelson, "Defining Academic Freedom"
https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2010/12/21/defining-academic-freedom

* Elizabeth Nolan Brown, "Academic Freedom Is On the Decline, and Here's the Data to Prove It. An analysis of 50 years of U.S. court cases shows professors seldom win in speech battles with school administrators, and it's only getting worse."
https://reason.com/blog/2016/05/11/academic-freedom

* Jeffrey Adam Sachs, "There Is No Campus Free Speech Crisis: A Close Look at the Evidence" (see 3rd section of the article on faculty firings)
https://niskanencenter.org/blog/there-is-no-campus-free-speech-crisis-a-close-look-at-the-evidence/

* Richard Ohmann, "Academic Freedom's Best Days: Academic freedom flourished in the late 1960s and early 1970s. What may be learned from that time to help us understand and act in our time?"
https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2011/04/19/academic-freedoms-best-days

II. INTELLECTUAL DIVERSITY AMONG ACADEMICS:

- WHY HAVE COLLEGE PROFESSORS BECOME MORE LIBERAL OVER THE LAST 25 YEARS? IS IT THE RESULT OF GENERATIONAL SHIFTS, DISCRIMINATION, DIFFERENT CAREER CHOICES, FUNDING BIASES, OR SOMETHING ELSE?

- WHY ARE LIBERAL PROFESSORS CONCENTRATED IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES & HUMANITIES? IS IT A RESULT OF INNATE PERSONALITY TRAITS LIKE "OPENNESS", "TYPECASTING" CREATING A SELF-SELECTION BIAS, OR SOMETHING ELSE?

- WHY DO WE FIND THE MOST LIBERAL PROFESSORS AT UNIVERSITIES IN NEW ENGLAND? IS IT THE RESULT OF AN INNATE "UTOPIAN STREAK" IN YANKEE CULTURE (PER COLIN WOODARD) OR A RECENT SHIFT?

- SHOULD LIBERAL BIAS BE LESS CONCERNING IF IT'S GEOGRAPHICALLY CONCENTRATED & LIMITED TO NON-VOCATIONAL DEPARTMENTS, SINCE CONSERVATIVE STUDENTS CAN MORE EASILY AVOID IT?

2a) Kyle Kulinski, "Yes, College Professors Are Overwhelmingly Liberal -- Good" (video - 5:05 min.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moUUCPgAjjg

2b) Ryan Daniel Moran, "Why Most Professors Are Liberal" (video - 3:41 min.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiHkyLfR8Cc

* Sam Abrams, "The Blue Shift of the New England Professoriate"
https://heterodoxacademy.org/the-blue-shift-of-the-new-england-professoriate/

* Jason Rosenhouse, "Why Are So Many College Professors Politically Liberal?"
http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2013/12/30/why-are-so-many-college-professors-politically-liberal/

III. IDEOLOGICAL BIASES & TABOOS IN THE HUMANITIES & SOCIAL SCIENCES:

- IS POLITICAL DIVERSITY AS IMPORTANT FOR THE HUMANITIES & SOCIAL SCIENCES AS RACIAL/CULTURAL DIVERSITY & GENDER PARITY? DOES THE IMPORTANT OF DIVERSITY HAVE TO DO WITH EQUITY, AVOIDANCE OF GROUP-THINK, ENCOURAGING "BUY-IN" FROM ALL MEMBERS OF SOCIETY?

- DOES THE "ASYMMETRIC IRRATIONALITY HYPOTHESIS" IN POLITICAL PSYCHOLOGY JUSTIFY EXCLUDING PEOPLE WITH CERTAIN POLITICAL BELIEFS FROM SERIOUS SCHOLARLY WORK? CAN IDEOLOGICAL DIVERSITY BE ACHIEVED WITHOUT SUCCUMBING TO THE "BALANCE FALLACY" AND INCLUDING PERSPECTIVES THAT ARE PSEUDO-SCIENCE OR CONSPIRACY THEORIES?

- DOES A LIBERAL BIAS IN THE HUMANITIES & SOCIAL SCIENCES NEGATIVELY EFFECT THE CLASSROOM ENVIRONMENT & THE EDUCATIONAL PROCESS? IF IT HURTS STUDENTS, IS IT MORE HARMFUL FOR CONSERVATIVES SINCE IT DOESN'T GIVE THEM A VOICE OR LIBERALS SINCE IT DOESN'T CHALLENGE THEM?

- DOES A LIBERAL BIAS IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES DISTORT RESEARCH PRIORITIES OR LEAD TO ERRONEOUS CONCLUSIONS? IS POLITICAL BIAS TO BLAME FOR THE REPLICATION CRISIS IN PSYCHOLOGY, OR IS POOR METHODOLOGY & PUBLICATION BIAS MORE AT FAULT?

- SHOULD GOV'T FUNDING FOR UNIVERSITIES BE CONTINGENT UPON THEM ADOPTING ROBUST ACADEMIC FREEDOM POLICIES AND/OR HAVING IDEOLOGICALLY BALANCED COURSE OFFERINGS & RESEARCH GOALS?

3a) Jonathan Haidt, "Race/ Gender Denying Liberals Should Not Go Into Social Sciences" (video - 4:40 min.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBNtOCCSSRc

3b) Matthew Woessner, "How the Liberal University Hurts the Liberal Student" (video - 4:37 min.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOWQbRt8FbY

* Jesse Singal, "Is Social Science a Giant Liberal Conspiracy?"
https://www.thecut.com/2015/06/social-science-a-giant-liberal-conspiracy.html

* Uri Harris, "Are the Social Sciences Undergoing a Purity Spiral?"
https://quillette.com/2017/07/06/social-sciences-undergoing-purity-spiral/

* Madelein Kearns w/ Musa al-Gharbi, "A Social Scientist on the Liberal-Left Biases of Social Scientists"
https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/05/social-scientists-liberal-bias-creates-narrow-understanding-of-problems/

IV. COLLEGES AS "INDOCTRINATION CENTERS" VS "CENTERS OF ENLIGHTENMENT" & THE LIBERAL SHIFT AMONG COLLEGE GRADUATES:

- DO COLLEGE COURSES, PARTICULARLY DIVERSITY COURSES, CHANGE STUDENTS' SOCIAL VIEWS & POLITICAL ORIENTATION? IF NOT, DOES THE SOCIALIZATION PROCESS AT COLLEGE CHANGE PEOPLE'S MINDS?

- WHY HAVE COLLEGE GRADUATES BECOME MORE LIBERAL OVER THE PAST 25 YEARS? IS THERE A PROCESS OF SELF-SELECTION THAT CAUSES GROUPS MORE LIKELY TO BE LIBERAL (E.G. PEOPLE HIGHER IN "OPENNESS", WOMEN & MINORITIES) TO ATTEND COLLEGE AT A HIGHER RATE?

- HAVE COLLEGE GRADUATES MOVED TO THE LEFT BECAUSE THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY'S PLATFORM IS MORE EVIDENCE-BASED AND/OR BECAUSE THE REPUBLICAN PARTY HAS RADICALIZED OVER THE PAST 25 YEARS?

4) David Pakman, "Why Are the Highly Educated So Liberal?" (video - 9:54 min.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAyEeOZENEg

* Danielle Kurzleben, "Why Are Highly Educated Americans Getting More Liberal?"
https://www.npr.org/2016/04/30/475794063/why-are-highly-educated-americans-getting-more-liberal

* Scott Jaschik, "Liberal Indoctrination? Not So Much. Study counters widely held views about how students' political views change when they arrive in college. Research suggests that colleges broaden students' political views."
https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/02/05/research-suggests-colleges-broaden-students-political-views

* Peter Wood, "Yes, Campus Indoctrination is Real"
https://www.mindingthecampus.org/2017/08/07/yes-campus-indoctrination-is-real/

V. ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM & THE "CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE" IN AMERICAN UNIVERSITIES:

- HISTORICALLY, HOW HAVE REPUBLICANS & DEMOCRATS COMPARED IN THEIR BELIEFS IN THE VALUE OF COLLEGE ATTENDANCE & TRUST IN THE COMPETENCE OF COLLEGE PROFESSORS?

- IS REPUBLICAN DISDAIN FOR INTELLECTUALS & COLLEGE PROFESSORS HISTORICALLY-ROOTED IN THE FORMATION OF THE 'NEW RIGHT" UNDER WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY IN THE 1950'S, THE "BIG SWITCH" THAT BROUGHT WHITE SOUTHERNERS INTO THE PARTY IN THE MID-20TH CENTURY, OR A MORE RECENT PHENOMENON?

- DOES THE RECENT DECLINE (SINCE 2015) IN REPUBLICANS' TRUST IN AMERICAN COLLEGES & COLLEGE PROFESSORS MOSTLY DUE TO ANGER OVER POLITICAL DISCRIMINATION (E.G. LIBERAL BIASES AMONG PROFESSORS, DEPLATFORMING OF CONSERVATIVE SPEAKERS), ECONOMIC REASONS (E.G. RISING TUITION, DEGREE INFLATION), OR A RECENT UPSURGE IN POPULIST ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM?

- IS REPUBLICAN ANGER AT LIBERAL BIAS IN ACADEMIA LIKELY TO PROVOKE FUNDING CUTS FOR PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES & SUBSIDIZED STUDENT LOANS?

5) Ana Kasparian & Cenk Uygur, "Republicans: College Is Ruining America" (video - 7:00 min.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N22d_kqtYpA

* Hannah Fingerhut, "Republicans skeptical of colleges’ impact on U.S., but most see benefits for workforce preparation" (2017 poll)
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/07/20/republicans-skeptical-of-colleges-impact-on-u-s-but-most-see-benefits-for-workforce-preparation/

* Neil Gross, "Why conservatives hate college. The right’s decades-long war on academia and 'liberal professors' is about defining an elite 'populists' can oppose."
https://www.salon.com/2013/03/31/why_conservatives_hate_college/

* Graham Vyse, "Liberals Can’t Ignore the Right’s Hatred for Academia. A majority of Republicans think colleges and universities are bad for the country. That has consequences for all Americans."
https://newrepublic.com/article/143844/liberals-cant-ignore-rights-hatred-academia