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Mayo '13: Brown University: in need of diversity?

 

Recently, the Associated Press released an article on a new Group Independent Study Project, "Modern Conservatism in America," applauding its introduction of open-minded intellectual curiosity to what was characterized as a traditionally liberal, agenda-driven curriculum. As a response to that rhetoric, The Herald printed an editorial ("‘Trafficking in stereotype,'" Feb. 15) attacking the idea that Brown's liberal curriculum has prevented the academic exploration of conservative thought.

While it is true that many hallmark texts of conservative literature are sufficiently infused into the University's course offerings, the context in which the readings and the ideology itself are presented remains grossly slanted to the left. The debate is indicative of a larger lack of ideological diversity here at Brown that should be remedied if we wish to welcome students and faculty from all backgrounds in the future.

As a political science and economics concentrator, I can attest to the fact that several of Brown's political philosophy and economic theory courses adequately incorporate conservative literature into their syllabi. Unfortunately, this merely serves as a facade of legitimacy. The real problem arises in the manner in which these materials are presented in context. Indeed, from the experiences I have had, students are disproportionately fed the data, logic and philosophy that affirm liberal concepts over other alternative approaches.

For instance, in a popular political economy course, Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek are presented as neo-liberal roadblocks to the upward arc of Keynesian enlightenment. Also, the Phillips Curve has its virtues downplayed while its weaknesses are magnified. And the alleged present-day vindications of Keynesian ideology are plugged to smooth over any doubts a student might have harbored. Even in a course studying the United States' health care system, the social justice approach is presented through an article by esteemed academic Paul Krugman, while the market justice approach is presented via a YouTube video of members of the Tea Party from rural Wyoming. This biased presentation of conservatism as a confused and misguided academic interpretation feeds the nationwide stereotype that Brown is a closed-minded bastion of liberal thought.

Bias in the University's instruction of politically and socially charged topics is not the only avenue through which we feed the liberal stereotype. The staff we recruit and the research we produce continually fill only a specific portion of the ideological spectrum. While Brown continues to celebrate and promote diversity at all levels of its academic community, it has seemingly overlooked the concept of political diversity.

The recent wave of discussion and surprise elicited by the "Modern Conservatism in America" GISP certainly suggests that Brown has omitted at least some form of ideological diversity in comparison to other elite universities. Whether or not you think this to be true, the fact is that the stigma remains. Brown is widely considered to be an overly liberal campus that harbors the most progressive of Ivy Leaguers. As a community that holds diversity as one of its primary values, I would think this should pose a problem worth fixing.

What's there to fix? Shouldn't Brown pride itself in its overly progressive stereotype and embrace its role as the idealistic Ivy? That depends. Either the University finds it more important to promote its ideologically specific agenda, or it values producing a wide range of thought that fosters a non-biased pursuit of truth. Clearly, as an elite academic institution that is respected in many intellectual fields, Brown has an obligation to strive to perfect its academic community and the forum in which its members contribute to societal knowledge. This noble goal can only be achieved if Brown begins to paint its ideological picture with more than just dark blues and purples.

From my perspective, the University may choose one of two paths. The first option is to continue the course it has set. Brown can continue to hire liberal professors with research priorities driven to please a specific ideological crowd and attract a diverse student body who generally find themselves in the same philosophical ballpark. Or Brown can chart an entirely new course. The University can take its dedication to diversity seriously and recruit faculty and sponsor projects that seek to challenge the blooming progressive literature that it currently produces. It can foster a new level of debate that brings everyone to the table and encourages approaches from all different angles. Such an approach will only reinforce the values that Brown so boldly stands for and dramatically enhance the level of intellectual inquiry and debate among our academic community.


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