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College raising $20 million to expand viewpoint diversity series – in and out of classroom

Videoconference debates with the authors students are reading

A college that not only offers a speaker series on viewpoint diversity to challenge its liberal-bubble community, but is actively expanding it? Such a thing exists?

It does at Claremont McKenna College, which is raising $20 million to fund an endowment for an initiative it calls “The Open Academy.”

The Claremont Independent obtained a June document laying out the proposal, which will promote a new set of “Commitments on Freedom of Expression, Viewpoint Diversity, and Effective Dialogue.”

The document says several organizations – including Heterodox Academy, the American Council on Education, Mellon Foundation, ACLU and Koch Foundation – have expressed interest in promoting this new initiative at the southern California private college.

For decades CMC has run a program it calls the Athenaeum, which “brings scholars, public figures, thought leaders, artists, and innovators” to speak at moderated discussions with the community over a shared meal. In the past year, the college has shifted to programming that “sequences speakers with opposing viewpoints” so students can attend and learn from both.

Though this program runs four nights a week and also includes “lunch speakers, roundtables, and smaller presentations,” the college plans to raise $4 million to expand the programming with “additional respected thought leaders” who participate in “rigorous and thoughtful debates.”

The Open Academy has two other prongs. The college is raising $10 million to aid viewpoint diversity in the classroom, “through faculty hiring, co-teaching arrangements, technology, and guest teaching.”

It will offer honorariums to authors “across the political spectrum” whose works are assigned by professors. Those authors will “participate via videoconferencing in seminar style discussions with students” after they have read those works, in a bid to “challenge pre-existing assumptions.”

Another $5 million is being raised to support a four-year “skill-building program that teaches students about freedom of expression and viewpoint diversity” and trains them in dialogue skills.

(The $20 million budget chart for the proposal doesn’t exactly match the text description of its prongs, which only mention $19 million.)

The Independent said The Open Academy will be publicly announced at the Nov. 1 Athenaeum event featuring the Hoover Institution’s Peter Berkowitz, which doubles as the formal dedication of the Eggert Dining Room.

MORE: Angry mob shuts down Blue Lives Matter speech at CMC

The expansion of the Athenaeum series follows a troubling incident at CMC, the only member of the five-college Claremont Consortium to endorse the so-called Chicago Statement on free expression, the Independent notes.

Hundreds of Black Lives Matters protesters effectively shut down an Athenaeum speech last year by the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald, who was speaking on her book “The War on Cops.” Campus police forced her to cut short the speech and escorted her out through a side door that was flanked by protesters.

The Independent said it was estimated the vast majority of protesters were from other consortium colleges, but the incident still damaged CMC’s reputation “as a sanctuary for speakers of diverse ideological backgrounds.”

CMC earned a “green light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education this year, the first California college to do so. At the time it reminded The College Fix that it had levied sanctions against its own students who had participated in the Mac Donald shutdown, and even shared evidence of other students’ policy violations with fellow consortium members.

The June document doesn’t mention the Mac Donald shutdown explicitly, but it justifies the necessity of the new initiative by the problems in the consortium as a whole.

“CMC and the Claremont Colleges are not immune from forces that are closed, exclusive,
monolithic, intolerant, or reactionary,” it says. The proposal cites a Gallup survey of Pomona College that found the vast majority of students and professors believe the campus climate prevents them from “saying things they believe because others might find them offensive.”

MORE: 9 in 10 Pomona students say campus climate hinders free speech

IMAGE: Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg Piper served as associate editor of The College Fix from 2014 to 2021.