Discover more from PLURIBUS
E-Pluribus | June 9, 2023
Diversity that matters; defeating censorship; and a stark look at the limits of education.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Richard W. Garnett: True Campus Diversity
Much of the recent discourse on diversity seeks to elevate viewpoint diversity over the racial and gender-based diversity often touted as vital to promote equity tolerance in recent decades. While it’s an important distinction, Richard Garnett writes at Law & Liberty that true diversity is vastly deeper and broader.
Arguments about diversity in higher education are, of course, both unavoidable and highly charged. Generally, these debates have to do with the use of race in the admissions practices of elite institutions or with the dramatically one-sided make-up of these institutions’ faculty, administration, and leadership. A crucial dimension of the diversity problem, however, is less noticed: In a nutshell, we should be concerned about not only intellectual diversity within institutions, but also meaningful diversity among institutions, that is, what John Garvey, the President Emeritus of the Catholic University of America, called “institutional pluralism.”
[ . . . ]
Expressive freedom of speech, then, involves and needs more than speakers and hearers. To withstand attacks and constraints, and to function effectively and vibrantly, it needs an infrastructure. Universities (and other institutions of higher education) are crucial parts of that infrastructure. They are, as Paul Horwitz has explained, “First Amendment institutions” that “play a significant role in contributing to public discourse.” Free speech, correctly understood, is a practice and, as my colleague Alasdair MacIntyre observed, “no practices can survive for any length of time unsustained by institutions.”
[. . .]
Our colleges and universities should not all look the same; they should (within reasonable bounds) have varying curricula and programs; they should develop different specialties and sub-fields; they should cultivate distinctive missions and aspirations; they may take on a range of characters; they should come in multiple shapes and sizes. Institutional pluralism means, among other things, that our colleges and universities may be public and private, big and small, research-focused or liberal-artsy. We can, and should, have land-grant institutions, historically Black institutions, single-sex institutions, and military institutions. Some can focus on music and the arts; others on engineering and technology. Some may be animated by religious traditions and aims, others by environmentalism or multiculturalism. An institution’s distinctive mission will shape its curriculum, its policies, its hiring, and its student body. And, these differences will, taken together, strengthen expressive freedom’s necessary infrastructure.
Read it all here.
Subscribe for FREE:
Aaron Kheriaty: Slaying the Censorship Leviathan
Aaron Kheriaty of the Brownstone Institute in Texas takes to the pages of Tablet Magazine to write about the fight against the government’s apparent increasing appetite to silence dissent. Government efforts toward censorship certainly did not just begin during the COVID pandemic, but the panic and fear created by the virus provided a unique opportunity for those in government with authoritarian tendencies to use the crisis to consolidate power, and ultimately the Supreme Court will have to decide for a new generation how far the protections of the First Amendment will extend.
[T]he more important aspects of this case are the government censorship activities we have already exposed. For example, our documents demonstrate how a relatively unknown agency within the Department of Homeland Security became the central clearinghouse of government-run information control—an Orwellian Ministry of Truth. My fellow citizens, meet the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency—better known as CISA—a government acronym with the same word in it twice in case you wondered about its mission. This agency was created in the waning days of the Obama administration, supposedly to protect our digital infrastructure against cyberattacks from computer viruses and nefarious foreign actors. But less than one year into their existence, CISA decided that their remit also should include protecting our “cognitive infrastructure” from various threats.
“Cognitive infrastructure” is the actual phrase used by current CISA head Jen Easterly, who formerly worked at Tailored Access Operations, a top secret cyber warfare unit at the National Security Agency. It refers to the thoughts inside your head, which is precisely what the government’s counter-disinformation apparatus, headed by people like Easterly, are attempting to control. Naturally, these thoughts need to be protected from bad ideas, such as any ideas that the people at CISA or their government partners do not like.
Read the whole thing.
Freddie deBoer: Education Commentary is Dominated by Optimism Bias
While optimism is usually seen as a positive, Freddie deBoer writes at his Substack that unjustified optimism can also lead to wasted time and resources. In an essay originally intended for an education publication, deBoer takes an unflinching look at what we should and shouldn’t expect our educational system to be able to do.
Why does optimism dominate education discourse? Consider the incentives. Almost everyone within the space has direct professional reasons to be relentlessly positive. This is most obvious in the think tank world, where consistently pessimistic voices are quite rare; nonprofit institutions are funded by do-gooders who want to believe that they’re getting something for their money, and donors don’t want to hear bad news. The dynamic for academic researchers is similar, where positive results get published much more often then those that find no effect and where the political biases of academia make pessimism professionally fraught. And people who get into education journalism tend to be idealists who pursued the career path because they were attracted to pleasant and simplistic narratives of poor kids rising up from the ghettos and going to Harvard. Undergirding all of this is the social pressure that stems from the fact that no one wants to deny the potential of any kids to flourish. (You might say that most people want to ensure that no child is left behind.) But someone has to be the bad guy. Someone has to be there to say that the empire has no clothes. Someone has to defend teachers and schools by pointing out that they simply don’t control outcomes in the way they’re usually assumed to. And someone has to point out that the history of modern American education gives us every reason to be pessimistic, as time after time, hype has given way to sad reality.
Read it all.
And finally, here with a stirring defense of free speech, Mr. Bean (also known as Rowan Atkinson):