Universities Value Diversity, As Long As It Doesn't Include Diversity of Thought
August 16, 2013
Yesterday, we heard the news that Dartmouth College was retracting its offer of a deanship to Malawian bishop James Tengatenga in light of comments he had made about homosexuality during his tenure as Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Southern Malawi.
Today, we learned that the University of Michigan rescinded a speaking invitation to Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, allegedly because of donor concerns about her anti-Israel activism.
These two incidents serve to highlight an unfortunate reality at too many universities: While they claim to place a high value on diversity and multiculturalism, they are often unprepared or even unwilling to accept the diversity of thought that naturally flows from those things. If universities truly wish their student bodies, faculty, and staff to represent a variety of people from different backgrounds and different parts of the world, they must also accept the differing worldviews that follow.
For example, a British Anglican priest told The Boston Globe the following regarding Bishop Tengatenga:
“You are asking the impossible of someone coming out of that African situation,” said the Rev. Nicholas Henderson, a parish priest in West London, an editor of Anglicanism.org, and a vice president of Modern Church, the oldest theological society in the Anglican communion. “Just rescinding that [appointment] is to show a lamentable lack of understanding of circumstances that are outside the confines of privileged North America.”
Disqualifying people from speaking or serving at a university because they hold views outside the American university mainstream turns what is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas into an echo chamber where no one actually has their views challenged. Academia may be able to hobble along like this for a while, but let’s not fool ourselves into believing it’s not a serious problem. If universities want to remain actual centers of education in the long term, they must stop being afraid of genuine debate and disagreement.