The Dead-End Gospel of Viewpoint Diversity

In the Gospel of Matthew, the risen Christ gives his followers a specific directive—usually called the Great Commission. He said: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” By spreading the good news of his atonement and resurrection, Jesus hoped his followers would win the salvation of many. But throughout the Gospels, he also made clear that relatively few would respond positively to the call to faith—and that many would reject salvation outright.

Two thousand years later, another man from a Jewish family began preaching a different gospel. Back in 2015, Jonathan Haidt—the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at NYU’s Stern School of Business—saw that the American university was also in need of saving. He worried that draconian speech restrictions, the weaponization of Title IX, and the politicization of sectarian grievance was making our institutions incapable of achieving their mission. That mission was the disinterested pursuit of knowledge and truth—an indispensable guide for any modern democratic society.

Haidt’s plan for salvation? With two colleagues, he founded Heterodox Academy—an advocacy organization whose mission is to “[advance] the principles of open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement to improve higher education.” Heterodox Academy now boasts thousands of members who believe the mission of our colleges and universities have been compromised.

When I heard about Heterodox Academy in 2017, I eagerly joined. I had recently fought off a fraudulent Title IX complaint at my own university and I was committed to working toward reform. Since then, I have soured on the organization. I never stopped believing in the importance of viewpoint diversity on campus. But after the annus horriblis of 2020, it became startlingly obvious to me that the universities hadn’t merely forgotten the centrality of open inquiry to their official mission. No, they fully understood the key role of viewpoint diversity in fulfilling the traditional aims of the institution.

Instead, the problem was that an unofficial mission had displaced the official one: the majority of faculty and administrators now view higher education first and foremost as a vehicle for enacting a radical, dogmatic vision for “social justice.” Then education is reduced to partisan indoctrination, things like “open inquiry,” “viewpoint diversity,” and “constructive disagreement” become intolerable obstacles to the covert ideological objectives of the university. In short, universities aren’t ignorant of Haidt’s gospel. They know it well. And they haven’t simply rejected it—they view it with open hostility.

No better example of this can be offered than last week’s congressional testimony from the presidents of 3 elite schools: Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the University of Pennsylvania. The three women were brought in to explain their tolerance for the outbreak of antisemitic vitriol that has occurred on their campuses since the October 7th attack on Israel. This tolerance is especially suspect since the universities usually employ a “safety first” approach that punishes any speech that could be found offensive —regardless of intent.

Rep. Elise Stefanic (R-NY) asked each president some variation of the following question: Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate your university’s rules or code of conduct?” The answers were illuminating. MIT’s President said that you may call for genocide—as long as those calls aren’t “targeted at particular individuals.” Pres. Magill of Penn explained that calls for genocide only break the rules “if speech turns into conduct.” Rep. Stefanic rightly noted that this means there is no violation until campus antisemites actually begin trying to kill Jews. Harvard’s Pres. Gay agreed that students only run afoul of the code of conduct if they target an individual. Given multiple opportunities to amend her position on whether calls for a pogrom will be tolerated on campus, Ms. Gay could only repeat that it “depends on context.”

One might expect that a man like Haidt, coming from a Jewish family, would be uniquely alarmed by this testimony. Instead, he took to X to express his “sympathy” for the “nuanced” answers that the ladies provided. Continuing, he said that what “offends” him is that “since 2015, universities have been so quick to punish ‘microaggressions,’ including statements intended to be kind, if even one person from a favored group took offense.”

Take note: it’s not the refusal to condemn calls for genocide that offended Haidt, it’s the selective enforcement of rules for speech on campus. He goes on: “If you’re not going to punish students for calling for the elimination of Israel and Israelis, it’s OK with me, but ONLY [sic] if you also immediately dismantle the speech policing apparatus and norms you created in 2015-2016.”

Although two out of the three university presidents who testified have since attempted to walk back their comments, free-speech advocates shouldn’t hold their breath.

It’s as though Haidt believes that these women—and all university administrators of their type, which is most—are unaware of their hypocrisy. They most certainly are not unaware—and if their constant, smug smirking during their testimony doesn’t convince Haidt, I don’t know what will. The “speech-policing apparatus” that he decries isn’t broken. It’s working exactly as intended, as a brutal weapon for censoring speech from disfavored groups and perspectives—whites, Jews, males, conservatives, Christians, etc.

Further, it is a weapon that will never be deployed against favored groups—blacks, Muslims, gays, leftists, women, etc.­—because the unofficial mission of the university aims at a “just society” that will grant “systemic” privileges to these “historically-marginalized” cohorts. Does anyone believe that if campus groups were openly calling for the extermination of black people that elite universities would be extolling the primacy of the First Amendment?

The selective enforcement of the rules is a feature, not a bug, of the current system. What Haidt can’t—or, more likely, won’t—understand is that professors and administrators across the country have heard the Gospel of viewpoint diversity. They have thoughtfully considered it. And they have rejected it en masse, as they correctly see it as a major hindrance to achieving the Leftist goals to which they have sworn allegiance.

Coming to grips with this refusal is hard—especially for “liberals” like Haidt—because it means recognizing that open debate and productive disagreement will no longer be sufficient for saving the university. The Magills, Gays, and Kornbluths of the academic world will not be convinced, and they will not compromise. This leaves us with two options: accepting the Left’s Reign of Terror on campus as “the new normal” or deploying much more aggressive, forceful measures to restore the original aims—and democratic functions—of the university.

Faced with repeated, explicit rejections of the Gospel, Jesus counseled his followers that they shouldn’t waste any more time throwing their “pearls before swine.” One is left to wonder: how many more pearls do Haidt and Heterodox Academy stand to lose?

Photo by Vibe Images — Adobe Stock — Asset ID#: 23798881


  • Adam Ellwanger

    Adam Ellwanger is a full professor of English at the University of Houston - Downtown, where he studies the intersection of rhetoric, politics, and culture. Reach him on X @1HereticalTruth.

4 thoughts on “The Dead-End Gospel of Viewpoint Diversity

  1. I want to defend Jon. He realizes that those of us who want ideologically open universities are fighting an uphill battle against Ivy League presidents and others who, as the author points out, want to extinguish us as much as they do Israel. The best way to win, long term, is to constantly point out the hypocrisy of those powerful elites. Jon did that. There is a serious danger that these hearings will lead to even larger safety bureaucracies, simply adding Jews to the protected classes. That was clearly what Representative Sanchez was pushing for at a different congressional hearing. UGH. While Jon’s tactics are often too tepid, I’ll defend this one: cut the safety bureaucracies which make everyone unsafe. We actually have a decent chance of winning since while some Ivy League presidents really are critical theory storm troopers, most are just regular Nazis who only joined to get a promotion and may not even like what they are having to do. As soon as oppressing others is not in their best interest they will switch sides. Yeah, they are really that shallow.

    1. I agree with Adam’s assessment of Heterodox Academy’s approach, but that doesn’t mean the group isn’t a great step forward. HxA includes mainstream academics, i.e., leftists, who retain libertarian tendencies. To me, left-wing ideology is incompatible with civil liberties, but the HxA members are not followers of Milton Friedman and often have not heard Friedman’s and Hayek’s arguments, so they see things differently. As well, the main stream of academics is mainstream, which precludes effective, radical tactics. People like Adam and Robert can perhaps influence HxA. I too have been frustrated by the group’s being mainstream, but that is its point.

      Unless campus speech involves a direct threat–which indeed occurred at Brooklyn College, where I teach, where SJP called for killing Jews–it should not be inhibited, and bureaucracies that police speech should be shuttered. As Adam points out and I’m sure Jonathan agrees, the campus left is not mostly libertarian and does not agree, so cases like that of Mike Adams are known to everyone on this site.

      If we are looking for a voice for radical change, we will not find it in HxA, but along parallel lines from another time, place, and point of view, that didn’t stop the CP-USA from supporting the Democratic Party, and eventually Henry A. Wallace found a way to become FDR’s vice president.

  2. I’ve read a good deal of the gentle Mr Haidt and lose track of how many podcast. Like so many alarmed by, but too gentle, with the Far Left, whose natural allegiance once lay in that camp, he is a neutered warrior. And worse so, because he did the bloodhound research to expose the evidence. He simply can’t see old allies for what they have become; old pets who have become rabid dogs, if you will. He therefore cannot make the transition from what he longs for, a fair fight being the contest of ideas, to what it has now become, open warfare of ideology, with occupiers and usurpers entrenched in the most powerful institutions at a ratio of 12 to 1.

    Haidt is like a physician who wants to be gentle with cancer. He’s a gentle soul to be sure but in a fight he’s no better than a sheepdog with a growl but no bite.

    However eloquent and noble it may sound, one simply does not defend the rights of those whose speech has the effect and intent of denying that right to others. And they are easily identified too, because they provide protection selectively. It is why we generally condemn Nazis and why we should also be condemning the neo-marxists and anti-Westerners who have wormed their way into our flock. These are the same people actively destroying the Nationally unifying truths, even myths, undermining our inspiring history and values and principles, telling students they are based on a foundation of lies. They’ve constructed a culturally-marxist narrative of division with patriarchy, identity, equity, racism and gender as the alter on which they don’t mind sacrificing a Nation using our youth as a sacrificial lamb. You can shield them now. But be prepared. We’ll be hunted by those they convert tomorrow.

  3. I thought when I saw their testimony, they should have simply said “Threatening genocide against Jews (or Israelis), yes, that would would constitute harassment that would violate university policy.” Had they said that, their jobs would probably not now be in jeopardy. It did not have to get more complicated than that.

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