Op-eds, Opinions

Boury ’20: Advocating for ideological diversity at Brown

Op-Ed Contributor
Thursday, March 15, 2018

In 2001, newly instated President Ruth Simmons famously responded to controversy surrounding a racist advertisement in The Herald by stating that “it is easy enough to exist in a realm where everyone is like-minded and speaks only of unimportant matters. That’s easy. While comfort may be found in silence, truth cannot dwell there.” Fifteen years later, her successor, President Christina Paxson P’19, stressed the importance of freedom of expression on college campuses in her 2016 convocation speech, likening the censorship of ideas in universities to “turning off the power in a factory.” Both emphasized that civil discourse and debate among opposing views are essential resources for students to develop, build on and perhaps even challenge their pre-existing beliefs. In that vein, universities have the responsibility to expose their students to a diverse spectrum of ideologies and opinions, as doing otherwise would effectively lull students into thinking in a one-dimensional manner. All this begs the question: Has our university lived up to the promise of engaging its students in ideological diversity?

A university can be judged by the type of thought and discourse it attracts, as this indicates its commitment to challenging commonly held ideas and engaging in frontier-pushing work. Those who are invited to speak, debate and lecture in its halls are representative of that commitment, and we are coming up short here on College Hill.

In 2017, the University invited a long list of speakers to campus — and we should know. Over the past year, the SPEAK coalition — a group of students, professors and student organizations seeking to bring more ideologically diverse speakers to Brown — has collected data on every speaker invited by the institutes and centers listed by the Political Science Department as “bear(ing) on the study of politics.” We chose to analyze the political affiliations of these speakers as a transparent metric of the ideologies welcomed on campus and of the general environment of discourse. Of the 237 speakers who were politically identifiable based on campaign contributions, social media statements and career histories, 94.5 percent leaned left, while a mere 5.5 percent leaned right. In an examination of political contributions by these speakers, 97.4 percent of donations went to Democratic races and political action committees, whereas only 2.6 percent went to Republican ones. Though political affiliation may be an imperfect measure of ideology, the results are so skewed that they can’t help but betray a lack of diversity. The complete results of our findings are available in our 2017 Brown University Speakers Report, with an extended analysis of the data and a detailed methodology on our website. Our mission has been supported by several student organizations and faculty members.

The Herald reported on this last Tuesday, and reached out to administrators for comment. According to the article, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs Director Edward Steinfeld took issue with our analysis, commenting that Watson’s programming focuses on “public policy issues from an international and comparative perspective.” He claimed that a left-right dichotomy does not apply to these topics. However, in order to mitigate this very problem, we chose not to include international speakers who had never lived in the United States in our data, and collected additional data on whether speakers’ talks had any relevance to American politics. Of those that were relevant, 93.4 percent of speakers still leaned left.

As a concrete example of this issue, the Watson Institute will be hosting a talk later today that was originally titled, “The Future of Bipartisanship.” Yet even this event will not be bipartisan — the two planned speakers are 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee ’75 and Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez ’83 P’18. (The title of this event has been changed to “A Conversation about Partisanship Today,” but the description of the event still calls it “a discussion on the future of bipartisanship.”)

Brian Clark, director of news and editorial development, also noted in The Herald piece that the left-right dichotomy in our data failed to capture “in totality the richness and complexity of viewpoint diversity at Brown.” This begs the question: If such a wide diversity of viewpoints is brought to campus, why do almost all of the speakers fall on the left side of the spectrum? This isn’t a matter of chance — as we showed in the report, this bias occurred among professors and non-professors alike, as well as those who addressed both American and international topics.

For these reasons, we, the SPEAK coalition, challenge the Brown community to improve. Diversity of thought is crucial to academic and personal development, and is one of the main reasons we’re all here. How can we truly experience diversity of thought when most of our speakers come from the same perspective?

We at SPEAK seek to hold the University to its promise of creating a more ideologically diverse environment for personal growth, self-reflection and discussion. To this end, Brown should invite intellectuals, journalists, policy practitioners and others from across the ideological spectrum who can articulate their worldviews and subject them to respectful campus scrutiny. This would not include spectacle speakers or professional agitators, who offer nothing of intellectual substance and attack marginalized groups on and off campus. We are now working to expand our coalition and receive input from these groups on how to achieve our goal in the most inclusive and productive way possible.

We are staunch liberals, lifelong conservatives, avowed libertarians, passionate socialists and everything in between; however, we share a common interest in diversity of thought. As an advisory and watchdog group, SPEAK hopes to facilitate civil debate and open-minded discovery for ourselves and our peers, an environment we argue is currently lacking.

The like-mindedness within our university can only be mitigated by welcoming differing voices into our discourse. Otherwise, how can we be sure that, in Simmons’ words, we do not speak “only of unimportant matters”?

Eugénie Boury ’20 is the media relations director of the SPEAK coalition and can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to

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  1. Brown usually lives up to its reputation as an intolerant, ideologically leftist bastion. Does Brown as a whole want more ideological diversity? Probably not.

    The writer needs to stop misusing the phrase “begs the question.”

    • Yes, that phrase and the use of the word “parameters” are not only overly used but actually misused. “Raises the question” and “limits”, “perimeters” or”boundaries” would be more appropriate.

  2. I only hope the author isn’t driven off campus for publishing this article. But my fear is the thought police will respond with rage and cries of hate speech and racism and hold angry demonstrations until the author is expelled.

    It feels like 1984 – Uniformity is Diversity – Violence is Peace – Hate is Love

    That is what I hear these days from the far right and the far left. Just rage and self-righteousness.

    • The problem is that the far right is not in charge of most newspapers and other media, colleges and universities, public schools and large corporations.

      • The far right is in charge of numerous institutions that wrongly have the title of “University” teaching what is actual indoctrination to a baseless religious dogma and hatred against parts of society (LGBT people and other minorities). The far right preys on lack of education and fear and has succeeded for now But fortunes are reversing quickly and rationality and progress will prevail.

        • LeftCoastRightBrain says:

          Enlightened comment.

        • MikeOverHere says:

          The irony of this scare-mongering missive.

        • Are you speaking about private colleges and universities, some of them religious? Your bigotry is showing. And if you reject God but embrace homosexuality and transgenderism as normal, then you reject rationality and science.

          • Hahahaha truly you gave me a good laugh.

            Your sky daddy does not exist – get over it. There is nothing rational or normal in believing in long disproven supernatural deities.

            Homosexuality on the other hand is a natural part of human variation, the same as the existence of trans people.

            Private colleges that under DeVos receive or are about to receive federal funding.

            I adore it when far right christian extremists use the words rationality and science.

            Thankfully you die out fast.

          • Thanks for confirming your anti-God bigotry. Since you must believe in evolution, you must realize that gays and to a certain degree trans-genders will be weeded out and die because they won’t reproduce. Since you say it is naturally to want to sodomize another man, you must understand therefore that there must be a genetic cause for this behavior, since over 95% of males reject that behavior. And I guess you believe that pedophilia, psychopathy, serial killing, genocide are natural also. And believing your a trans is what, scientifically accurate and rational, instead of unscientific and irrational? Liberalism is a mental disorder,

          • “anti-God bigotry” – hilariously precious. The low education fanatics who in the name of their imaginary deity have hunted down LGBT people for centuries (in 13 states controlled by the radical christian extremist GOP party laws criminalizing homosexuality are still in the books) and continue to try to restrict the rights of anyone not signing up in their irrational dogma call the factual truth “anti-God bigotry”. I will almost miss you as you die out and the world becomes more and more secular honestly.

            LOL someone has been left wayyyy behind in terms of genetic advancements. Newsflash : gay people have been having children for decades and same-sex couples also have children. Someone should fill you in on the scientific advancements in that field.

            Actually your 95 % is false as the percentage of the population who does not prescribe to absolute heterosexuality is much larger – recent studies indeed indicate that exclusive heterosexuality is indeed very rare. As almost all human characteristics, sexuality has a natural variation, part of the beauty of nature this variation that makes each person different. Ohhh the usual comparisons of the christian jihadists between two people who love each other and child rape and murder 🙂 Very cute. What I know is that there is no natural inclination to owning military assault rifles as a citizen but your mentally challenged ilk of radicals defends that to death while fighting viciously against the civil rights of loads of americans in marriage etc.

            The biggest mental disorder of our times is modern conservatism. It is shared by an increasingly fringe of poorly educated, highly religious fanaticized rural masses that do not only seek but cheer for a new dark age. They share the ideals of white supremacy, homophobia, transphobia, science denial, a stubborn fanatical belief in an imaginary sadistic sky deity and want the laws of a secular country to be based on their religion – aka promoting a violent, vicious theocracy. As they see their utopia fading as society becomes more diverse and more equal they become hysterical, violent and even more delusional.

            Coming elections will put your dwindling ilk to your place. The majority had enough of you and your ignorance and bigotry. Your days of attacking LGBT people and other minorities are counted.

          • Wow, so easy to get to rant. By the way, you atheists killed and murdered more people in less time than all the Christians, Muslims and Jews for thousands of years. Our society and civilization were built on a Judeo-Christian heritage. Destroying them will not bring a better world. Your ranting shows just how hateful you are of those who believe differently than you. Typical leftist who claims to want diversity but wants all people to think like them. Good luck with God and Jesus.

        • The far right you describe is more a reaction to the far left — Yeats put it best, the middle ceasing to hold.

    • Jerome Barry says:

      That’s the far right and the left.

    • Trump Calls Blacks the N-Word says:

      Yes, yes, there’s a war on Christmas, we’re all trampling white Evangelical rights to marry their 13yo cousin, yadda yadda, you’re so persecuted…

      Most university speakers are educated, and most educated people are liberal. The study’s results are normal and expected. I’m sure there’s a similar split at universities nationwide. Especially if the sample includes international figures who have lived here—the whole world is more liberal than America. Maybe if more conservatives were educated, this study would have controlled for these.

      • You’re not smart

      • Do your elbows hurt trying to pat yourself on the back as much as you do?

        Educated how? I have found a lot of people with bachelors and masters degrees without a lick of sense in anything but their own field. That doesn’t make them better equipped to decide the future than the local plumber.

        But lets take this in another direction. Are you saying that only the “educated” should have a voice, and therefore by extension the right to vote?

        Lets also float this idea. Since many studies have identified that the left outnumbers the right by 12 to 1 in faculties in America. (don’t get all caught up in the “thats because they are smarter” – lets assume they show not more broad intellectual skill than the average person). Therefore is it not possible that “educated” people have been instructed that certain ways to thinking are forward and progressive and others are backward and ignorant? Through social conditioning and implied classroom instruction that conditioning is imposed on 18-22 year olds – their most impressionable years? And if so – is it unlikely to assume that they will always “have the proper response to the correct stimuli?” My hypothesis implies that you and your ill-educated brethren have been used – think about that for a second.

        Your condescension clearly indicates your not open to optional thought. Swaddled in your arrogance and confirming studies by academics who share your condescension you are certain of your privileged status.

        And that is the primary reason we have the butt hole president we now have. Want to know why Trump is in office? Go look in the mirror.

      • MikeOverHere says:

        Yeah, Asia, Africa and South America are hotbeds of liberalism.

      • You must be so proud to have so many bigoted stereotypes in one post!!
        You drip condescension, ignorance and anger in one small sentence it would take a grand dragon of the KKK to duplicate that much condensed stupidity.

        I have worked with many “educated” people – a few Harvard MBA’s. Frankly – not impressed. In real world thinking and problem solving I find the are hide bound thinkers with little flexibility. I have worked with others who, not shackled by institutional thinking, are original and creative.

        So your implied link between educated and liberal is missing a simple connection. Does that make them inherently correct – because they have a sheepskin in 17th Century Russian literature or (God forbid) Sociology (the go to degree for those who the university milks money from knowing they can’t graduate with anything else) over those who don’t have a degree?

        One last note – if you want to know why so many people voted for that idiot now occupying 1600 Pennsylvania ave – I advise you to look hard in the mirror. Your arrogance and condescension drove voters away buy the bus load.

        So keep up the insults, assume your intellectual superiorty, and then wonder why the plumber (who doesn’t have a degree) just cheated you out of vast amounts of money because you are too ignorant to know better – or your auto mechanic, electrician . . .

      • Only because all the conservatives have been forced to the think tanks.

      • Tom Butler says:

        I’ve traveled to countries on 6 continents (and I really have no desire to see the 7th). Believe me, the majority of the world is NOT as liberal as the U.S. Western Europe is without a doubt but, the remainder….hell no.

  3. It takes a truly admirable amount of self-examination and censure to see this reality and to not conclude, either:

    (A) These trends and data just mean the right is stupid and obviously wrong, or
    (B) This is a good thing and should be encouraged

    It’s far more common to be an Edward Steinfeld and host a venue on “bipartisanship” where, with a straight face, “the two planned speakers are 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee ’75 and Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez ’83 P’18.”

    As rank as this hypocrisy is, it’s no easy thing to see the total phalanx of left-wing groupthink from journalism schools, the media writ large, universities writ large, Hollywood, the leadership of every major financial institution, the entirety of the tech oligopolies, the millions-strong federal bureacracies, the now-quotidian social media furious rage (see: Ryan Zinke today), and countless others and hold a mirror up to oneself, and not think “good, we’re on to something.”

    We soi-disant intelligent people on the right salute you!

  4. PeacePromoter says:

    Good luck. You’ll need it.

  5. Rhu rho shaggy, some non-doctrine thoughts have leaked into the safe space… time to burn down the book store and savagely hospitalize whatever intellectual heretic had the audacity to utter a non-doctrine thought. In all seriousness, good luck taking on the trigglypuffs. You’ll absolutely need it, and probably a lot of security personal to keep their violent temper tantrums at bay

  6. Todd Watson says:

    Ma’am you are to be commended for this. You are absolutely right. You give me hope for the future. Keep fighting the good fight

  7. Rick Weldon says:

    Founded by a slave trafficking family.

  8. lexbob2000 says:

    Seems the minority not in control pushes ‘bipartisanship’ as a topic
    more often….when they are in the minority, as the democrats are. So
    Brown comes up with two Democrat speakers to talk about the need for
    bipartisanship when the topic itself deserves criticism as possibly
    being a bit disingenuous

    But there is no speaker there to make this or other points that I’d love to make or see made.

  9. lexbob2000 says:

    Of all places…Universities…where now ‘open debate’ is considered ‘open’ if two people of the same opinion ‘debate’ it.

    Hard to believe University thought has become so dumbed down by ‘intelligent’ people.

  10. Thank you for pointing out that Brown is another leftwing indoctrination center. The more this is broadcast, the more tuition paying parents cross these re-education camps off the list. The drops in attendance are small but the drop represents families that are paying the full tuition without assistance from the university. It punches and outsized hole in their budget. Starve the beast.

    • The only beast in need of starving are private religious universities aka christian indoctrination chambers who now, under DeVos, are receiving federal funding while at the same time discriminating against swathes of students (e.g. LGBT students).

      The moment the jihadist hellhole called Liberty University allows openly LGBT students to attend then Brown may have any kind of responsibility to invite any kind of right wing lunatic.

      The best will be starved and the current federal administration helps more and more – combating far right extremism and theocrats is a duty every citizen has.

      • LeftCoastRightBrain says:

        And yet another brilliant contribution to what is otherwise a good thread. “jihadist hellhole”? Really?

        • Well someone has to bring some basic rationality to a thread infested by far right lunacy don’t you think ?

          Of course – what is the difference in the teachings of private religious universities and those of ISIS that your ilk so much detests (while professing similar beliefs e.g. against LGBT people, on how secular law should be based on your christian beliefs etc).

          The republican party of the US engages in what can only be called as christian jihad – it attacks science, rationality, civil rights all in an effort to establish a christian theocracy.

          • Mathew Andresen says:

            “Of course – what is the difference in the teachings of private religious universities and those of ISIS”

            Well for starters Christian universities aren’t beheading anyone.

            They also aren’t advocating for the death penalty for being gay. They don’t stone women for getting an education.
            They don’t kill you if you leave the faith etc

          • Indeed they prefer to to torture LGBT people to the point they take their own lives – sounds more humane doesn’t it ?

            No they are advocating for criminalization and jail time and promoting torturing and widely debunked “reparative therapy” to change people’s sexual orientation (a practice officially endorsed on the GOP platform after Tony Perkins’s lobbying on the matter).

            So between two ilks of religious fanatics who hate LGBT people we have ISIS that beheads gay people – horrible. But we have another ilk that does not take simple satisfaction by killing LGBT people, no – they want their torture to be lasting and longer. And every one of those delusional fanatics acts out of “love”. To many people the sadistic approach of the second ilk is worse you know.

            As much as you try to sugarcoat it Pence, Cruz, Carson and their dear friends such as Perkins are no different in terms of ideology than their ISIS counterparts – their desires in terms of what a society should look like are the same – their means of achieving it are different and in the US they are thankfully restricted largely by the US constitution.

          • Ummmm, Liberty University isn’t tossing gays & lesbians off the roof. Iran is. Nor is it beheading anyone — ISIS does.

      • I graduated from a Catholic University. Christian fundementalist annoy me, but they are not trying to destroy my First and Second Amendment rights. The progressives are very much trying to take those rights away.

  11. lexbob2000 says:

    Seems like the goal for universities, those embedded in power there, is not to really DEBATE the political issue of the day, but to WIN the political issue of the day.

    They do this with full knowledge that half the country has a belief system that the universities are not even presenting….even helping to drown them out as invalid. Thats half the country they are ignoring as invalid points of view.

    There is strong evidence this is far more a left thinking trait, those in power on the left shutting down the other side. One seldom, in comparison, sees any of those in power on the right trying to shut down the left.

  12. Harry Callahan says:

    Doing battle with entrenched and empowered ideologues is tough going. Few have the stomach, and spine, to engage in sustained conflict. I extend this group all due encouragement and hope for success.

    I believe this moment in Western history is analogous to the cultural environment in Europe 500 years ago. At that time, the Church of Rome (Catholic) was dominant. It also engaged in abuses that many, including a monk named Martin Luther, found intolerably contrary to the history, tradition, scripture, and theology of the Church. Unlike the vast majority, Luther decided to work for reform. The Protestant Reform(ation) was the result, and the direction of Western history, philosophy, and culture was profoundly reoriented.

    I don’t know if the SPEAK Coalition is willing to put members lives on the line (as was the case with Luther) but this is a reform movement that is long overdue and vitally important. Hang tight, don’t back down, and remain tightly focused on your specific objective.

    • Thanks. I’ve been using the pre-Reformation Roman Church analogy for some time now. Thing is, Jobs and Gates gave us the means to go outside the established channels, as Gutenberg did then. Trump as Luther? Maybe so…

      Let’s not forget that the Reformation set off bloody wars for centuries.

      • Harry Callahan says:

        Made me smile. I have also seen the parallel between Gutenberg’s press and today’s electronic comms revolution….but Trump is no Luther…

  13. invention13 says:

    Speaking as an alum (’81), I would love to see Brown set an example by inviting more diverse speakers. By all means challenge and debate them – but do so politely, with respect and reason. A university shouldn’t be a ‘safe space’. Quite the contrary, it should be a place where you are exposed to ‘dangers’ in a controlled way so you learn how to deal with them.

  14. rlhailssrpe says:

    I would offer a superior measurement for defining the mission of Brown and other universities and a means to improve their cost efficient outcomes.

    What is the average GPA of their graduates? It is reported that essentially all students make A’s, with a few B’s. If this is true, the entire student body is composed of geniuses, which may not need a university education. I pose Bill Gates, a drop out who made zillions.

    Thus all parents could simply write a big check, the kid could receive a diploma in the mail and free the faculty of driving to work in the snow. How they could provide an audience for the 90% of liberal speakers is an unsolved problem. Perhaps homeless people could be enticed with milk and cookies.

    There is another, greater, problem, the real world.

    • dirk gently says:

      “What is the average GPA of their graduates? It is reported that essentially all students make A’s, with a few B’s.”

      That’s because at Brown, students grade themselves. A student’s GPA for a semester is literally whatever he thinks it should be. This has literally been Brown’s policy since the 1980s.

      Like most leftists, the average Brown student believes himself to be a super-genius, while …let’s face it, ANYBODY with real intelligence has been going to other colleges and universities, where the GPAs and diplomas actually means something.

      • rlhailssrpe says:

        I thought I was once worthy of Brown, appointed myself All American 1 st string QB, then President, and then Pope. Currently I am working on canonized saint.

        Am waiting for the rest of the world to be so enlightened. It has been a long wait.

  15. Jerome Barry says:

    That’s not impressive. The young and inarticulate SPEAK spokesthing spoke no words of intersectional suffering or fear. Consequently, the Brown administration have no ear for their silly letter.

  16. A good editorial. I do have a quibble with the following:

    “To this end, Brown should invite intellectuals, journalists, policy practitioners and others from across the ideological spectrum who can articulate their worldviews and subject them to respectful campus scrutiny. This would not include spectacle speakers or professional agitators, who offer nothing of intellectual substance and attack marginalized groups on and off campus.”

    In today’s hyper political U.S., who gets to determine who is or is not a “spectacle speaker”?

    • Phil Ostrand says:

      I think we could say a Richard Spencer is a spectacle, but a Newt Gingrich or a Paul Ryan would not be. When I was an undergrad at Yale, conservatives were minority but there were quite a few. And discussion debating all sides of the political issues were debated.

      What colleges need is guidelines on behavior and what happens if you don’t.

  17. Lets’s face the humanities and the social sciences have been hijacked. In many cases the courses are not worth the ROI.

  18. disqus_06OcnNZNS0 says:

    I’ve heard Brown described as a huge hedge fund… has a huge endowment but they are sitting on native American land that they have not paid for and don’t seem willing to make things right with the tribe so screw their holier than thou moral stance. They are just a bunch of hypocrits.

  19. Just because you want to invite people like Yiannopoulos and other mentally ill bullies it does not mean Brown or any other university has any duty to host them.

    Get your far right speakers and go to Liberty or Ozarks or BYU some other so called “University” aka religious indoctrination center.

    As another comment very accurately said : Political affiliation and education have a direct relation with people of higher education being more progressive than poorly educated ones and universities want to host eloquent, well educated speakers, researchers etc, not your Duck Dynasty, Franklin Graham crowd.

    As I said : Don’t like it ? Pack your bags and go to Liberty – especially now that this hellhole of extremism gets federal money from DeVos while openly discriminating against students you should have a great time.

    Next !

  20. 1TomLarkin9 says:

    Brown is lost. Whatever happened to Cedric Jennings?

  21. John H. Gleason says:

    Brown hosts a diverse array of speakers from the political left. For Brown, that’s enough diversity.

  22. davemarney says:

    Monocultures are weak. The real question is, does Brown want weak alumni, or strong?

  23. The far right is in power, so they do not add anything new to the conversation. A university is a place to learn new ideas, so only the left presents anything new.

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