To the Editor:
Jonathan Haidt, in his latest piece, engages in a time-honored tradition to “worry about the university” (“When Truth and Social Justice Collide, Choose Truth,” The Chronicle Review, September 23). Haidt bemoans the crumbling of the university and its telos of truth in a landscape of heightened partisanship, ultimately laying the blame at the feet of social-justice minded students and faculty — never pausing to consider that truth and social justice might overlap.
This genre of worry about the university articulated by elite scholars like Jonathan Haidt, Joshua Katz, and Heather Heying, is very common. They suggest the university is in crisis. And not in terms of declining undergraduate enrollment, adjunctification, or the erosion of tenure. But because of the strangle-hold of Leftist social-justice ideology. The solution? Founding the Heterodox Academy. Or creating the non-accredited University of Austin. These scholars are more concerned with the destabilization of a nostalgic, genteel, white-washed fantasy of the university than dealing with the socio-economic realities of higher education.
Universities are seats of truth in so far as they are seats of power, formalizing bodies of knowledge and professionalizing practices of scholarship. Critically, they have also granted students socio-economic mobility and cultural capital through educational credentials.
My worries about the university relate to its growing inaccessibility to a generation of potential students who also question its value. Haidt and his compatriots seem more concerned instead that students, now an increasingly diverse group, are speaking truths that are uncomfortable to hear.
I have a suggestion for Haidt. Instead of spending time ruminating over supposedly objectionable passages in How to Be an Antiracist while submitting a conference proposal, if he’s really interested in ensuring ideological diversity, why not consider making higher education more accessible to more students through policy reforms? To increase the ideological and demographic diversity of universities.
But of course, having more voices, more students to share in the power of the university and the project of making the university a public good for the whole public, that doesn’t fit with the fantasy of the university as a remote site of truth. So, let Haidt continue to worry about the university and the rest of us can get to work.
Emily Lynell Edwards
Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities & Educational Technologist
St. Francis College