The Importance of Diversity

Commentary, Culture Wars, Free Speech, Universities, Gerry Bowler

Recent American studies have revealed a striking lack of variation in political views among the nation’s university professors. For example, 85% of academics teaching political science rated themselves as left of centre; only 10% considered themselves to be in the middle of the road and 5% to be on the right wing. 85% of anthropologists and sociologists said they were Democratic party supporters; fewer than 3% identified as Republicans. A survey by the National Association of Scholars found that professors donated to the Democrats rather than the Republican party by a 95 to 1 margin.

But what of Canada? A 2021 paper entitled “Academic Freedom in Crisis” done for a California think-tank reported findings from British, American, and Canadian universities showing that our campuses are dominated by a single political varietal — 73% of academics teaching at Canadian universities self-identified as left-wing, 4% as right-wing. Of those voting in the 2019 federal election, only 7% of our professoriate cast a ballot for the Conservatives, the party that captured over 34% of the national vote.

It is rare to spot a right-leaning Canadian academic in the wild; many thought they had been hunted to extinction. And indeed, the species is under severe environmental pressure. Small-c conservative professors report a cancel-culture climate of self-censorship, bullying, no-platforming, and discrimination in hiring, promotion, and publishing.

Does this really matter? It wouldn’t trouble me if I discovered 90% of Winnipeg plumbers voted Libertarian or that 60% of Manitoba snow-removal workers identified with the Green Party. But it should concern us all that our institutions of higher-education are populated only by one shade of political opinion.

A monoculture of anything – crops, forests, foods, entertainments – is no good for society and that fact is triply true for universities which are supposed to produce the country’s thought leaders. How can we solve Canada’s economic and social problems if the answers are generated only on one part of the spectrum? Truth emerges from a clash of opinions not a meeting of heads nodding in unison.

The fact is that the left and right care about different things. The academic freedom study cited above showed that progressive North American professors would prefer a racial- and gender-inclusive course content to one that featured the most intellectually foundational books and articles in the field. Conservative professors are shown to care more about academic rigor and research integrity while  left-wingers prioritize social justice. An intellectually-diverse college should have its fair share of all these viewpoints.

Universities Canada, the association of Canadian university presidents, would seem to agree with me. Its website boldly proclaims: “Empowering and mobilizing a full spectrum of ideas, talent, perspectives and experiences builds a more innovative, prosperous and inclusive Canada. University leaders are working together and collaborating with community organizations, business leaders and governments to reduce barriers to equity, diversity and inclusivity on campus and in society.”

Alas, we all know that boast is a hollow one. For post-secondary institutions, diversity is valued only for skin colour and sexuality; “a full spectrum of ideas” really isn’t important. If it were, we would not have the near-monopoly of opinion that now exists. If universities truly cared about diversity they would be sure that, in the humanities and social sciences at least, departments would seek to have a balance of viewpoints.

 

Gerry Bowler is a Canadian historian specializing in the intersection of popular culture and religion. He is a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.