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heterodox comments on the heterodox academy meeting

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of attending the 2nd meeting of the Heterodox Academy. I went to many sessions and I also participated in the panel session on teaching and mentoring. In no particular order, I present some thoughts:

Atmosphere and Crowd: The conference seemed to have a real mellow vibe. There were definitely some sharp and critical questions, but the tone was very middle of the road. What was more interesting was the occupational diversity of the attendees. One might expect this to be a sort of meeting of oddball professors, but it was very mixed. I met professors, deans, graduate students, film makers, journalists, philanthropists, NGO workers, legal professionals, and more. Apparently, there was even a 7th grader in attendance. This signals to me that the public at large may really be interested in a more ideologically mixed version of academia.

Content: Content came in a few flavors. First, many of the headline speakers – the NY Times’ David Brooks, Harvard’s Steven Pinker, and the AACU’s Lynn Pasqueralla – offered some version of the defense of the university and/or liberal education. Second, there were many discussions of detecting or working with intellectual intolerance and making intellectual diversity possible in actual classroom settings.

Mentoring: In my panel, I focused on doctoral education. I talked about professionalization, actually “walking the walk” on diversity (e.g., actually publishing or helping people who are ideologically dissimilar to you), and “pay off” (i.e., when you mentor students, tie it to concrete outcomes like publication). I also had the pleasure of hearing from April Kelly-Woessner on intellectual diversity in a liberal arts college and Jonathan Zimmerman on the same topic in K-12 education.

Elephant in the Room: In the spirit of heterodoxy, let me point out the elephant in the room. In one session, an audience member asked a panelist, I believe it was Judith Shapiro, about if they had actually ever hired a political conservative. I think she gave a professional answer – as president of Barnard, she did not directly make hire decisions – but she did dodge. Keith Whittington noted that his institution, Princeton, hired conservative social theorist Robbie George. Reasonable answers, but it does elide the issue of hiring and intellectual heterogeneity. No honest professor could promise that an institution will hire exactly X professors of type Y, but they could discuss the conditions in hiring practices that make diversity – of all types – possible. This should have been brought up more directly.

Overall, I enjoyed the conference. If you are in New York next year in June and you have an interest in higher education, you should definitely check out the conference.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 26, 2019 at 12:41 am

Posted in uncategorized

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