“Intellectual diversity” in academia

Here’s a sample of the occasional public pressure you get when you teach in a public university. The Missouri General Assembly will be debating a bill calling for “intellectual diversity.” The full text is interesting enough, but the most important bit is:

(e) Include intellectual diversity concerns in the institution’s guidelines on teaching and program development and such concerns shall include but not be limited to the protection of religious freedom including the viewpoint that the Bible is inerrant;

Now, there’s very little chance that something like this would be enacted, stand up to a court challenge, etc. etc. But it’s interesting to see how religious conservatives are using “diversity” language. To a certain extent, we in liberal academia have been asking for it, the way we’ve made a fetish out of diversity and representation (sometimes to the extent of ignoring distorting power imbalances that can’t be shoehorned into someone’s identity politics). So, it might make a kind of perverse sense. Definitely, in the halls of our science departments at least, Bible-inspired pseudoscience gets very little respect. So why not make a hue and cry about “viewpoint discrimination” and demand representation for a rather large constituent group?

Then again, maybe this sort of thing is just how it always is. Research and scholarship are always embedded in particular cultures. Perhaps we’ll always face demands to assimilate intellectual concerns into politics or salesmanship. Pressure to always produce knowledge that fits “practical” (commercial or military) needs, to treat students as “customers,” and to spend most your time scrounging for funding can be just as bad as explicit interference by the Religious Right.

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About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University