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Higher education’s 20-point credibility gap

The Brookings Institution’s Jonathan Rauch has a warning for those in education who don’t like politicians working to ban critical race theory: “There’s more to come if you don’t get more conscientious about making campuses more hospitable to a true diversity of ideas.”

In a wide-ranging interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education about his new book “The Constitution of Knowledge,” Rauch points out that public trust in the academy has cratered, falling about 20 percent over five years. He says:

A 20-percent change in anything over five years is very significant. Most of that is conservatives and Republicans. Diversity matters, and diversity of every kind matters. And if the public looks at academia and sees one type of person asking one type of question and adopting one type of worldview, they’re going to feel alienated from that. I can’t blame them.

Rauch says that the lack of intellectual diversity is related to another problem on campuses today: the chilling of speech and inquiry by outrage mobs:

Surveys, anecdotal evidence, and reporting find there are many students who are afraid of their fellow students, and professors who are afraid of their students, and sometimes of other professors. There are entire topics that scholars are effectively avoiding out of fear. That is the opposite of what a university is supposed to be.

When interviewer Evan Goldstein poses the question of self-censorship as civility, Rauch isn’t having it:

Civility — editing ourselves so we can get along with others — does not involve punishment. It does not inspire fear. It’s a different story if you think you’ll lose your job, be investigated, your friends will shun you, your professional connections will detach themselves, your journal will repudiate your work and apologize for publishing it, and you might not be hirable somewhere else. Those actions are not consistent with civility. Those actions are punitive in intent and intimidating in outcome, and that’s what they’re designed to be.

Rauch does have some qualified good news about cancel culture campaigns. As the interviewer summarizes the evidence from his book, such campaigns “tend to fail when individuals and institutions have backbones.”

But when Goldstein follows up with the question “How would you rate the spinal stiffness of college presidents these days” the best Rauch can muster is “My impression from folks in the trenches is that it’s not as bad as it could be.”

Read the whole interview.

IMAGE: Danomyte / Shutterstock.com

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