Monday, February 20, 2017

The Purge 3: Ideological Viewpoint Diversity

The headline from Iowa Starting Line was a little shriek-y and a little click bait-y: "Senator Mark Chelgren Aims To Purge Democrats From Iowa Universities" I literally laughed out loud. So, he wants to shut down Iowa's universities then- I mean, pretty much. I'm assuming if you get rid of the Democrats, there wouldn't be that many Republicans left- it's an idiotic idea. I didn't know legislation could be click bait as well, but hey, there it is.

Froth, fire and brimstone aside- if you step back and unpack the kernel of the idea a little bit, there might be something there worth discussing. But first, we have to knock off the obvious: this is a moronic piece of legislation. People with No Party registration (Independent, damn it! INDEPENDENT FOREVER!) are good to go- along with Republicans. Which begs the question: how do you prove that someone's registered the way they say they are? Say this goes through: there'd be a stampede of people who simply change their voter registration and leave it at that. Iowa's three public Universities would become hotbed of apparent Republicans- which makes the whole notion silly- and you'd think it couldn't get sillier, but then you see this:
"a person shall not be hired as a professor of instructor member of the faculty at such an institution if the person's political party affiliation on the date of hire would case the percentage of faculty belonging to one political party to exceed by ten percent the percentage of faculty belonging to the other political party."
Sweet Baby Cheez-Its, do what now? Okay (rolls up sleeves) tangent time:

[This is your obligatory reminder that America's two party system is antiquated, inadequate to the needs of our present society and does a massive disservice to our democracy, Yes, yes, yes, single-member districts and first past the post voting does tend to produce a lower number of parties, which combined with the collusion between the two parties to prevent meaningful alternatives from emerging makes us a de facto two party system. Except there's absolutely nothing say we have to be. We just choose to be. Because hard work and pushing on mountains sucks.]

Okay. I'm back. Now, as I said, this is a click bait bullshit piece of legislation that will probably not see the light of day by the end of the session,. As a law, it's totally unworkable- not because of the dubious legality of the concept, but because if you try and apply common sense and basic logistics to it, it collapses like the pile of bullshit the good Senator obviously intended it to be.

However, push aside all the bullshit- and there is plenty of it, there's a kernel here worth examining: should Universities do more to encourage ideological viewpoint diversity on their campuses?

In Conservative circles, this isn't a new idea. People have been calling for 'affirmative action' for Conservative college professors for years now- and leaving aside the sweet, sweet irony of Conservatives asking for 'affirmative action' for their professors- which everyone who is not a Conservative should savor and enjoy on a daily basis and mock them repeatedly for- especially when they call it 'affirmative action for Conservative college professors'

Here's the crazy thing though: they're not wrong. Viewpoint diversity is something that Universities should think about, because at their core, if their mission is educational, then you can teach nobody nothin' if everyone pretty much agrees with each other. New ideas are born out of the clash of old ideas and differing viewpoint- I read a really good book on the rise of the Conservative Movement whose name escapes me at the moment that looked at this very issue. In the 50s, Conservatism was more or less moribund as an ideology on the national stage. It took two decades of vicious intellectual battles and fights to forge a movement that triumphed in 1980 and- you can argue whether it was bad or good- whichever it is, it changed America.

The problem we face today is that no intellectual refreshing seems to be occurring. Conservatism is in retreat in the face of populism- plus, on a bigger scale, there's a debate between 'drown the Government Rat' vs 'Provide Good, Efficient Government' that I think could break open in the next few years that should be interesting to watch. Progressive/Liberalism still seems to think that if they can get just one more shot at European style socialism, 'it'll work you guys, we swear!'

Then there's the economics..  the evils of global capitalism and all that. I don't think you can call what we have capitalism- it's capitalism in the same way that the Soviet had communism, which really is not at all. If anything we're closer to corporatism than anything else- but if state sponsored communism doesn't work (as the Soviets and to some degree the Chinese have proven) and if the intertwining of global capitalism and politics undermines democracy and society- does whateverthehellyouwanttocallwhatwevegotgoing work either? If neither of them work- if nothing does, how do we figure out what does?

The obvious place, to me, would be in our institutes of higher education. So yes, you should have a ton of different viewpoints. You should hire a ton of different viewpoints. That should be in your mission statement to get as many different ideas on your campus as possible, because new ideas are born out of the clash of old ideas. If your Universities aren't doing that (and I suspect that on this score, the good Senator might have firmer ground to stand on, because they're probably not doing that) then you should provide incentives (such as higher funding levels! Hey-o!) to get them moving in that direction.

This can be done- and would probably provide students with a better education as a result- or at minimum, teach them how to deal with people with opposing points of view better than we do now.* I'm just not sure it's something you can effectively legislate.

*Buckle Up, because it's time to talk about my day job: Free speech calls are some of the hardest and most annoying calls I have to deal with. Yes, the Preacher on campus waving around pictures of aborted fetuses or yelling about how Gays, Jews, etc are all going to hell is offensive. I get that. But unless he's blocking egress of a building- we're on a public campus and he's got a Constitutional right to be here. You have a Constitutional right to keep on walking... because there's nothing we can really do other than send officers to sort of hang out and look awkward about things. 

You would not believe- especially on the Free Speech calls- the pretzel knots people will twist themselves into trying to get these people kicked off of a public campus. People will lie their heads off if someone is waving a poster of something they don't agree with. But the last time this happened, the students got smart and launched a beautiful rainbow flag waving, chanting protest of their own. Right next to the Preacher. He, unsurprisingly, was undeterred- but it confirmed my belief that the answer to bad speech isn't stifling it. It's more speech.  That's education to me.

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