Thomas Sowell

Sometimes it seems as if "diversity" is going to replace "the" as the most often used word in the English language. Yet the place where this word has become a holy grail -- academia -- shows less tolerance for genuine diversity of viewpoints than any other American institution.

In a book titled "The College Admissions Mystique," an admissions office official at Brown University is quoted as setting ideological litmus tests for applicants. An outstanding high school record would not be enough get admitted, because such records were seen as signs of people who had sold out to traditional ways of thinking -- and who envisaged careers in establishment professions. He called such students "Reptilian."

What the admissions official wanted were "with it" kids, socially and politically aware -- "bellwethers" who "would have a following later on." In other words, he did not want pillars of society but politically correct pied pipers who could head ideological movements.

In other words, diversity of viewpoints is not welcome. Diversity of physical appearance is the be-all and end-all, but diversity of thought is no more welcome than it has been under the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Such narrowness is not confined to Brown University. Nor is it confined to admissions offices. Increasingly, ideological litmus tests are applied to the hiring of professors. Candidates for faculty positions report being asked openly ideological questions.

One young scholar who has published very careful and important research that reached politically incorrect conclusions reports being treated with calculated discourtesy and boorishness during job interviews. It was not enough for the cultural commissars to turn him down, they had to try to humiliate him.

This particular scholar has now been hired by a conservative think tank on the east coast. But the real harm that has been done has been done to students who will never learn that there is a factual and reasoned alternative to the one-sided propaganda they will hear in their classrooms.

Incidentally, there is a reason why most of the top-rated think tanks in the world are conservative. When a liberal think tank wants to hire a top scholar in some field, they have to compete with Ivy League universities, Berkeley, Duke, and the like. But conservative think tanks don't have that problem, because the ideological litmus tests in academia bar many conservative scholars from an academic career. Conservative think tanks have little competition when hiring people like the outstanding young man who was dissed at job interviews in places where he was, if anything, over-qualified.

What is remarkable -- and appalling -- is that so many businessmen keep writing donation checks, some in the millions of dollars, for places where businessmen are demonized by academics who know nothing about business, and where the very possibility that a student applicant might become a businessman is enough reason to blackball him, despite his academic achievements.

Recently, a college student wrote to me that a professor was shocked to see a book of mine accidentally fall out of his book bag. However, the prof was visibly relieved when the student said that it was just a book that he bought for himself. What this ideological academic had feared was that this book was assigned reading in some course. In other words, four years of steady indoctrination with the left viewpoint might be jeopardized by one little book of essays.

Who knows? It could even lead to diversity.

All this ideological intolerance might seem funny, but it is very serious for those who are true believers on the left and ought to be for those of us who are not. Even if the academic Talibans of the left were correct in all their beliefs about all current issues, it would still be dangerous to leave students unable to weigh and analyze alternatives for themselves, because the issues in the years ahead of them are almost certain to be different. What they were taught will become progressively less relevant and the mental skills that they have not been taught can become a crippling handicap for them "DIVERSITY" -- and for our society.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate