Blogs > Cliopatria > Ideological Diversity (From The Hinterlands)

Apr 21, 2005 1:40 pm

Ideological Diversity (From The Hinterlands)

Ideological diversity in the academy has gotten a lot of play in the last couple of years. KC Johnson has been a particularly ardent advocate of the need to expand the ideological range of history departments in particular. Unlike some of the more shrill proponents of “ideological diversity,” such as David Horowitz, who actually do not much seem to value a diversity of views at all, KC is both serious and his sensibilities have led him to a reasonable conclusion: Actively supporting and recruiting historians who focus on politics, diplomacy, and military history will have the wedge effect of expanding the ideological range of most modern universities. This would require no concerted attempt to force an ideology, as military historians may be more inclined if not to be conservative per se, at least to have particular views about the role of the military and strategy that expand the ideological range of their departments. Diplomatic historians would have the same effect on thinking about foreign policy, and so forth.

In my own department here at UTPB, one of my colleagues has been asked to draft a diversity statement for the university, and as happens in most good departments, after he did so, he sought the input of the rest of us. I asked him if we could include “ideological diversity” as something we also prize. He agreed and it will be in our statement (along with “age,” a suggestion of another colleague).

I am not certain what “ideological diversity” will mean to my colleagues nor do I know what effect the diversity statement will have on the operation of our university or department. It is probably the same sort of boilerplate that goes out on thousands of mission statements and like documents at every college and university every single day. But the ease with which I was able to have “ideology” placed into our statement tells me something else: That maybe the conflicts at Columbia or Brown or (insert elite university department here) really do not speak to what most of us experience in the academy on a daily basis.

Because of a recent death of one of our most respected history faculty members, UTPB now has six full-time, tenure-track historians. We have at least two Republicans. This has never been an issue. I am a liberal and a Democrat, but my support for Israel and my general stances on foreign policy might make my politics anathema at Duke. They serve me just fine here. Just as they did in Ohio and North Carolina when I was a graduate student, just as they did last year when I was a fellow for too-short a time in Charlottesville, just as they have at most summer programs and on most fellowships and at most conferences and with most of my colleagues everywhere I have been (and just as they did at Williams). And I suspect that this is the case in the overwhelming majority of universities and colleges in the US, where most faculty members have a lot more to concern ourselves with than closing doors to people who might disagree with us. I would suspect that more places value ideological diversity as a matter of course, without giving it much thought. Anyone who has ever sat on a search committee knows that there are so many applications and so many factors that pretty far down the list of most people’s efforts is going to be to try to parse for politics.

Am I saying that KC Johnson overstates things? No, not really. His experiences have pointed him in a different direction. And that Columbia situation is a nightmare, as was his fiasco at Brooklyn College. But there are lots of us working at good but low-profile schools all across the United States. I have yet to be convinced that more faculty and students experience circumstances akin to that at Columbia than they do situations comparable to UTPB. I have quite a lot of reasons to believe that my experience is more normal than that of a professor at Columbia even if it does not seem to be more normative.

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