It’s rare to see anyone on college campuses – especially students – demanding to hear opinions that differ from their own these days. But at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, the student government recently passed a series of resolutions aimed at bolstering “viewpoint and intellectual diversity.”
The resolutions were the brainchild of Northwestern senior Lauren Thomas, a Panhellenic Association senator, but were also sponsored by a diverse group of other students. While Thomas was unable to speak with Watchdog regarding the resolutions (Northwestern has finals in mid-March and is prepping for its first-ever appearance in the NCAA basketball tournament), Heterodox Academy, an organization dedicated to viewpoint diversity on college campuses, published some of the resolutions adopted by the school’s student government.
Some pertain to the invitation of speakers to campus, including one that would instruct the administration to allow speakers of all viewpoints, provided those speakers don’t break the law or violate the university’s policy on harassment (their opinions and past writings shouldn’t count as harassment merely because some students disagree with them). Protesters would be protected under another resolution, if they are peaceful and don’t violate the Student Handbook.
One key resolution “calls upon Northwestern’s administration to continue to expand organizational diversity statements and efforts to include viewpoint and intellectual diversity.” This is something that is sorely lacking on today’s college campuses, as Heterodox points out. Roughly 60 percent of college faculty lean to the left, while just 12 percent lean to the right (the other 38 percent describe themselves as moderates).
This near total domination of academia by the left has made it difficult for conservatives or anyone who doesn’t adhere to liberal doctrine to be heard or to invite speakers with similar viewpoints. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has tracked the number of speakers disinvited since 2000, and found a sharp increase in the number of disinvitations in 2016, with 42 separate incidents, thirty-five targeting conservatives.
Leveraging the system
Northwestern has had its own problems with academic freedom, according to a recent faculty-authored report.
In February 2015, professor Laura Kipnis published an article questioning the current climate of sexual politics on campus. Some students were offended by the article and claimed its existence created a “chilling effect.” Kipnis was subjected to a Title IX hearing.
In a follow-up article, Kipnis (who is not a conservative) described her ordeal, and explained how the phrase “kangaroo court” came to mind. The school even hired outside attorneys, but after a few months dropped the inquiry.
“As I understand it, any Title IX charge that’s filed has to be investigated, which effectively empowers anyone on campus to individually decide, and expand, what Title IX covers,” Kipnis wrote. “Anyone with a grudge, a political agenda, or a desire for attention can quite easily leverage the system. And there are a lot of grudges these days.”
A few months after Kipnis’ inquisition, professor Alice Dreger and two others resigned after the university censored the Winter 2014 issue of Atirum, the faculty-run medical journal edited by Dreger.
The faculty committee responsible for the report suggested the school disallow administrators or public relations staff from editing journals run by faculty or students.
In an email to FIRE, Northwestern’s director of media relations, Bob Rowley, disavowed the committee’s findings.
“It was sent not to the administration for comment, but to another committee. It was not discussed by the Faculty Senate, and it was not voted on at the Senate,” he said. “It does not reflect the views of the Senate.”
But it appears students like Thomas were paying attention.
Some of the resolutions approved by the student senate addressed issues arising from the Kipnis and Dreger cases. One “calls upon the Northwestern administration to only restrict speech insofar as it is unlawful, discriminatory, harassing, or threatening, or invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests.”
Another asks the administration, faculty and fellow students to “embrace the discussion and study of uncomfortable or heterodox ideas.”
Jonathan Haidt, professor and co-founder of Heterodox Academy (who also co-wrote one of the most talked-about Atlantic articles of 2015, “The Coddling of the American Mind”) praised the student government’s actions.
“The ability to hear and discuss ideas that may be politically or emotionally challenging is a skill that colleges are designed to impart. With the passage of this resolution, we can now look to Northwestern as a model campus, where the political majority does not dictate what the political minority gets to hear, and where free speech and free inquiry are held in high esteem,” Haidt said in a statement. “We hope that Northwestern is the first of many universities to pass similar resolutions in support of viewpoint diversity.”