Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

"Intellectual diversity enlivens WSU debate"

Now here is a professor we can be proud of. Ed Weber, WSU political science professor and Director of the Thomas S. Foley Public Policy Institute, answered critics in in a guest op-ed in today's Spokesman-Review. He completely gets the idea of intellectual diversity and the tyranny of liberal fascism on campus. I hope his proposal for balanced speakers comes to fruition, and if it does, Danny Schanze, Alex Williams, Chris Del Beccaro, and the other WSU College Republicans will be entitled to a great deal of the credit. Thanks guys, for your courage. The "hegemony of the left-leaning liberal viewpoint" does give everyone who stands against them grief, as Weber states and I know firsthand. But we CAN make a difference by calling them out and not taking it any more, from Wal-Mart to free speech.
On March 26, noted conservative scholar Dinesh D'Souza presented a lecture titled "Racism is not the Problem" at Washington State University's main campus in Pullman. The event was co-sponsored by WSU's Thomas S. Foley Public Policy Institute, along with the Associated Students of WSU, WSU's Residential Housing Authority, and the WSU chapter of the College Republicans.

The question-and-answer period immediately following the talk and ensuing commentary in WSU's campus newspaper, The Evergreen, made clear that many took offense at D'Souza's message, going so far as to accuse D'Souza and, by extension, the Foley Institute of further polarizing the campus on the issue of race, and accusing the Foley of being irresponsible. The Institute has even been challenged to provide immediate "equal time" and to do so quickly lest its mission of, and reputation for, non-partisanship be tarnished.

Allow me to throw a few facts on the table in regard to these requests for turnabout as fair play and the goal of a balanced dialogue, and then draw out the implications.

The Foley was established in 1995 and I have led it since 2001. During that time left-leaning, liberal speakers have outnumbered conservatives in a ratio of four or five to one.

How can this be if we make our decisions based on expertise? In part it is a function of the fact, established by several pieces of social science research, that roughly 90 percent of all social scientists and humanities scholars are either card-carrying Democrats or those with left-of-center values and preferences. An equally illuminating point is that WSU, like so many college campuses today, and especially in the College of Liberal Arts, is clearly more receptive to speakers who espouse liberal Democratic politics and policy views.

While no one has ever stopped me from inviting a conservative speaker to WSU, the hegemony of the left-leaning liberal viewpoint is such that the only grief I've ever received from my advisory board or others is when I have invited John Ashcroft, John Sununu, Mr. D'Souza, and a handful of others to campus under the Foley banner. I have never been interrogated or otherwise questioned about any liberal speaker so invited.

The thing is, I've never cared what side of the intellectual diversity divide someone stands on -- my job is to bring in excellent speakers who will make us think, and perhaps rethink our established positions. But there is a cost, emotional and otherwise, to fighting the inevitable "geez, why did you invite that fascist Ashcroft to WSU?" or "are you sure the Foley should be associated with such an outlandish (i.e., conservative) view?"

As a result, I have shied away from inviting too many of "the wrong kind" of intellectual. For that lack of courage I must apologize to all of the conservatives on campus -- students, staff and professors -- and in the surrounding communities of Washington State. I should have fought harder to bring more conservative voices to campus.

So here is my first proposal to meet the request for fair play and a balancing of the intellectual scales so that true intellectual diversity comes to WSU. Over the next 10 years, the Foley Institute should dedicate roughly 70 to 80 percent of its considerable programming resources to respected and strongly conservative speakers.

On a second and more concrete level, I propose that WSU immediately commission a working group comprised of university leaders, students and staff to establish an annual high profile, world-class lecture series in Pullman devoted to the theme of intellectual diversity. The series should be run by the Foley Institute and will consist of two lectures each year with one devoted to the liberal side and the other to a conservative position. WSU will need roughly $130,000 per year to support the series. The Foley can contribute $30,000, WSU students (ASWSU) can add $30,000, and WSU's administration can contribute the remaining funds for the first five years. Everyone together will then accept the challenge of raising the roughly $3 million needed to endow the series.

As director of the Foley Institute, and as a scientist and teacher who embraces the marketplace of ideas, I am saddened by those who choose to characterize D'Souza's ideas as polarizing and some who challenge the very right of D'Souza to share his conservative views on race with WSU. One thing I am certain of is this: the Foley Institute did WSU and the state of Washington a great service by enlivening the debate over race precisely because it directly challenged and broke the monopolistic hold at WSU of a singular, politically correct view on the race issue.

This should be our mission in higher education. Why? Because great universities thrive and embrace rather than shrink from the marketplace of ideas. Nor do they allow "offended" parties to dictate the substance of dialogue. My challenge to WSU is simply this: which one will we choose to be?

1 comment:

Bruce Heimbigner said...

I’ve only had one direct conversation with Representative Foley, and it was early in the first Clinton administration when healthcare was the big issue and I was on the Pullman Hospital board. He came to Pullman for the opening of Summit Therapy. We got in a heated discussion(after the official meeting.) It was a lot of fun for me and he seemed to enjoy it a great deal as well. His handlers literally had to pull him out the door while we were discussing intricacies of the health care debate.

The support of open debate by the Foley institute would be welcome.