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E-Pluribus | February 16, 2023
Viewpoint diversity is not the end-all; the war of words; and objectivity isn't subjective.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Martha McCaughey and Scott Welsh: Viewpoint Diversity Run Amok
Recent debates over freedom of speech on campus and academic freedom have raised the larger question of what higher education is all about and the role of professors in the classroom. With some stressing the need for “viewpoint diversity” (in contrast with demographic “diversity”), Martha McCaughey and Scott Welsh warn at Discourse Magazine that in the rush to encourage speech and expressing opinions, we might very well end up with the blind leading the blind.
The problem with turning to viewpoint diversity as a response to the politicization of higher education is that it concedes too much. Instead, higher-education reformers concerned with left-leaning biases should defend that which makes colleges and universities unique spaces—a concern with truth above all else. Calls for viewpoint diversity that draw political expression even further into research and teaching in the name of “balance” amount to little more than “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
[ . . . ]
Restructuring classrooms around student viewpoint diversity turns teaching into Twitter, where virtually all contributions are permitted and no one exercises editorial judgment. For this reason, professors embracing viewpoint diversity in the classroom as a way to show they’re not pushing an orthodoxy has as pernicious an effect on higher ed as scholar-activism has. Instead of insisting that scholarship and teaching should be as independent as possible from politics, these calls for viewpoint diversity frame soliciting students’ viewpoints as the antidote to orthodoxy. Advocating surveys to check how well college instructors welcome students’ opinions, insisting that faculty give credit to students who voice uncommon opinions, or saying faculty should be evaluated on how well they invite students to share their personal or political viewpoints undermines the authority rooted in faculty members’ subject matter expertise—the very basis of faculty self-governance and academic freedom.
While constructive disagreement amid viewpoint diversity is certainly important for campus life writ large, where students live and learn in the context of cultural, religious, political and identity differences, this merely sets the stage for—and is not identical to—the practice of disciplinary or open inquiry. Outside the classroom, students can and should engage in the free exchange of ideas—political, religious, metaphysical and intellectual. We support the many recent initiatives, from clubs to special intercollegiate trainings, designed to help students learn to engage civilly in difficult conversations across political differences. But a campus that is safe for such debate must still distinguish the purpose of these wider campus discussions from the more narrow, disciplined focus of college classrooms.
Read it all here.
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Nicholas Kristof: Inclusive or Alienating? The Language Wars Go On
In his column two weeks ago at the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof is clearly conflicted on the language wars, using the phrase “legitimate concern for transgender men who have uteruses” in the same paragraph where he decries “linguistic gymnastics to avoid the word ‘women’.” Nevertheless, Kristof’s discomfort with the twisting of words, even in the service of what he would see as worthy values, is significant given his status as a prominent progressive.
I’m all for being inclusive in our language, and I try to avoid language that is stigmatizing. But I worry that this linguistic campaign has gone too far, for three reasons.
First, much of this effort seems to me performative rather than substantive. Instead of a spur to action, it seems a substitute for it.
[ . . . ]
Second, problems are easier to solve when we use clear, incisive language. The A.M.A. style guide’s recommendations for discussing health are instead a wordy model of obfuscation, cant and sloppy analysis.
Third, while this new terminology is meant to be inclusive, it bewilders and alienates millions of Americans. It creates an in-group of educated elites fluent in terms like BIPOC and A.A.P.I. and a larger out-group of baffled and offended voters, expanding the gulf between well-educated liberals and the 62 percent of Americans 25 or older who lack a bachelor’s degree — which is why Republicans like Ron DeSantis have seized upon all things woke.
DeSantis, who boasts that he will oust the “woke mob,” strikes me as a prime beneficiary when, say, the Cleveland Clinic explains anatomy like this: “Who has a vagina? People who are assigned female at birth (AFAB) have vaginas.”
Read it all.
Walter Hussman Jr.: Bring Back Objective Journalism
A growing number of journalists in recent years not only insist their jobs cannot be done properly with objectivity, but that objectivity itself is something of a myth. At the Wall Street Journal, Walter Hussman Jr. writes that not only is that assertion nonsense, but runs counter to what the news consumer actually wants, perhaps now more than ever.
Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication recently released a survey of some 75 journalists titled “Beyond Objectivity.” Many of them argued that objectivity should no longer be the standard in news reporting.
“I never understood what ‘objectivity’ meant,” Prof. Leonard Downie Jr., a co-author of the report and a former executive editor of the Washington Post, wrote in a Post op-ed. “My goals for our journalism were instead accuracy, fairness, nonpartisanship, accountability and the pursuit of truth.” Much of the public would regard that as far more objective than what they read, hear and view now.
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Today media has more opinions than ever. More opinions, especially contrasting opinions, are good. What is bad, and erodes the public trust, is blurring opinions with news reporting. Why does this happen? Human nature explains why we want others to think like we do and agree with us. But that isn’t what the public wants from news reporting. They want the who, what, when, where, how and why without any personal bias. The best reporters don’t want popularity for what they write. They want respect. . .
How to restore trust in the media? With a significant loss of advertising mostly to Google and Facebook online, subscribers today have more influence than ever, as many newspapers and websites are highly dependent on circulation revenue. Those considering buying subscriptions could request that statement of core journalism values. . .
Read the whole thing.
Colin Wright with a thread (click on the first Tweet for the full thread) on the ignorance of biology that helps fuel the “gender” issue:
In New York, a hate speech law falls to the First Amendment:
And finally, kudos to the New York Times for its response to the open letter accusing it of editorial bias on transgender issues: