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Academia’s ideological bubble problem

It’s pervasive and widespread

A new study from an international team of researchers sheds further light on academia’s ideological handicaps: “ideological similarity, hostility, and discrimination” are apparently rampant throughout academic philosophy. Right-leaning individuals unsurprisingly report the highest amounts of discrimination; higher education tends to be hostile to anyone who’s to the right of Che Guevara. But even liberals report similar experiences: It turns out that hardline progressives can sometimes be just as hateful toward center-left folks as they can toward those on the Right.

Similar findings have been reported in other fields—sociology, psychology, etc. In the end the problem seems to be as much about the insular world of campus politics as it is the rigid ideological conformity of the modern American university. The campus is a small, arguably artificial environment; it tends to shelter its inhabitants from the outside world in a way that makes this sort of snarling myopia inevitable.

Changing this is not going to be easy. The oft-proposed solution, that universities simply need to higher more non-progressive types, is only half the issue. What’s needed is a change of heart, which is much harder to pull off than hiring some Burkean philosophers or Austrian economists. If the academy is going to be a place of free, interesting inquiry and open-minded toleration, its inhabitants need to make some changes; they need, in short, to stop being so fanatical and so intolerant of anyone with whom they even mildly disagree.

That kind of transformation is not easy to effect, and maybe many academics aren’t up to the challenge. But we should at least be honest about what the problem is—it’s not just the hiring practices of the university but its broken culture, which makes this sort of hostility inevitable.

MORE: ‘Ideological similarity, hostility, and discrimination’ rampant in philosophy

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