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Student Survey Doesn’t Support GOP Claims of “Intellectual Diversity” Crisis at Public Universities

Governor Kristi Noem insists our kids are being indoctrinated in liberal dogma. Our public university students are saying, What indoctrintation?

According to a survey sent by the Board of Regents to students last March in compliance with our Republican Legislature’s meddling directives about the fake crisis in “intellectual diversity”, the vast majority of responding students said they feel no great hindrance to their freedom of speech and political association on campus:

Q1. To what extent do you agree with the following statement?: The culture at this institution discourages students from saying things they believe, because others may find them offensive.

  • 43% of respondents Disagreed or Strongly Disagreed
  • 12% of respondents Mildly Disagree
  • 20.1% of respondents are Neutral
  • 12.1% of respondents Mildly Agree
  • 12.8% of respondents Agree or Strongly Agree

Q2. To what extent do you agree with the following statement?: During my time as a student at this institution, I have felt silenced from sharing my views.

  • 57.1% of respondents Disagreed or Strongly Disagreed
  • 10% of respondents Mildly Disagree
  • 13.7% of respondents are Neutral
  • 9.2% of respondents Mildly Agree
  • 10% of respondents Agree or Strongly Agree

Q3. To what extent do you agree with the following statement?: Faculty at my institution respect free speech rights.

  • 3.6% of respondents Disagreed or Strongly Disagreed
  • 3.6% of respondents Mildly Disagree
  • 12.3% of respondents are Neutral
  • 11.8% of respondents Mildly Agree
  • 68.7% of respondents Agree or Strongly Agree

Q4. To what extent do you agree with the following statement?: I feel comfortable expressing my political views with faculty.

  • 14.8% of respondents Disagreed or Strongly Disagreed
  • 9.2% of respondents Mildly Disagree
  • 24.6% of respondents are Neutral
  • 15.3% of respondents Mildly Agree
  • 36.1% of respondents Agree or Strongly Agree

Q5. To what extent do you agree with the following statement?: As a student, it is important to me to enroll in courses designed specifically to enhance my knowledge of different political perspectives.

  • 19.7% of respondents Disagreed or Strongly Disagreed
  • 8% of respondents Mildly Disagree
  • 30.4% of respondents are Neutral
  • 11.6% of respondents Mildly Agree
  • 30.3% of respondents Agree or Strongly Agree [South Dakota Board of Regents, “Annual Report on Intellectual Diversity and Free Exchange of Ideas,” submitted to South Dakota Legislature, 2020.11.30].

I’m not sure Question 4 accurately measures “intellectual diversity”. I can think of plenty of settings in which students and other citizens might feel uncomfortable expressing their political views, not because of some prevailing dogma and potential for political retribution, but rather because all participants in the setting recognize that it just may not be the right time or place for expressing political views. Take work. I really don’t know how intellectually diverse my office is and I don’t care, because we’re there to do our jobs, not engage in vigorous political discourse. Among the small minority of students who responded to Question 4 with an indication that they feel uncomfortable having political conversations with faculty, there may be students in engineering, nursing, agriculture, mathematics, or other fields where political discussion isn’t really central to their necessary interactions with faculty. Their discomfort may actually be a respectful response to professors who properly keep political discussions out of their classroom activities so students can focus on their studies without any perception of distracting political pressure.

Question 5 may be the most important question in the survey… and maybe the single truly troubling one. Only 41.9% of students recognize their vital role in promoting real intellectual diversity by their own educational choices. Only 41.9% say they ought to study different political perspectives (and note, that’s a virtue signal, not a statement of whether they actually register for classes providing such study). 27.7% of respondents dispute the notion that they have an obligation to broaden their horizons; 30.4% just shrug.

The apparent apathy toward a broader, liberal education suggested by the responses to Question 5 does not make me want to require Republican kids to take courses in Marxism and subject the hippie kids to a semester of lectures from Rand Paul. But it does make me want to ensure that we make sure every student, even and especially those in the shrugging 30.4% who maybe just come for the degree and don’t seek out different perspectives on their own initiative, gets the kind of rigorous and well-rounded humanities education that keeps the soul and the state healthy:

Early Thursday, the Association of American Colleges and Universities issued a statement saying its pro-liberal education mission took on new urgency following the Capitol attack. “The task of an education allied to democracy is not simply to help students gain knowledge and skills,” the group said. “It is also to assist students in forming the habits of heart and mind that liberate their thinking and equip them for, and dispose them to, the creation of a more just and inclusive society through civic involvement.”

Lynn Pasquerella, AAC&U’s president, later told Inside Higher Ed that if colleges and universities are to develop the “independent and critical thinkers necessary to ensure that democracy is more than a tyranny of numbers,” they must affirm that a liberal education helps students — citizens — discern the truth, recognize and digest narratives, and promote “an understanding that the world is a collection of interdependent yet inequitable systems,” among other aims.

If nothing else, Pasquerella said, “the current culture wars being played out on the national stage highlight the inextricable link between a strong democracy and liberal education.” Citing economist Anthony P. Carnevale’s research on the inverse relationship between liberal education and authoritarian tendencies, Pasquerella said higher education must play a leadership role in confronting the day’s most pressing issues. That requires colleges and universities to serve as “anchor institutions,” demonstrating that their success is “intertwined with the economic, social, psychological, physical and educational well-being of the communities in which they are located and those they seek to serve.”

At the same time, the historic mission of educating for democracy is being “challenged by attempts to reduce the value of a college education to employability” or “tuition in exchange for jobs,” Pasquerella added. “In the end, the question we are facing in the aftermath of [Wednesday’s] riots is, ‘What is college for?’” [Colleen Flaherty, “A Failure to Educate,” Inside Higher Ed, 2021.01.08]

And that brings me right back to where I started this morning. The Republicans in Pierre manufacture fake crises of liberal indoctrination in our schools and respond with plans for indoctrination of their own. Meanwhile they undermine the efforts our teachers and professors make, against a Governor and Legislature from whom the best they get is negligence, if not outright verbal beatings, to preserve a learning environment that fosters critical thinking and intelligent, civic-minded expression.

The Legislature went fishing for a problem; their mandated survey found their problem doesn’t exist on our campuses. Since those results differ from their political view, legislators will likely dismiss this survey (step one: complain that not enough students took it and try again, maybe forcing students to take it before they receive their final grades) and look for another way to promulgate their narrow view. Hmm… it sounds like the real crisis of intellectual diversity is in Pierre.

15 Comments

  1. DaveFN 2021-01-13

    What Flaherty advocates is antithetical to the groupthink we’ve seen these past four years—which is the very reason she advocates what she does, of course.

    Fifteen years ago when Ward Churchill was under attack, a group outside SD pressured the legislature to “require” intellectual diversity at the state’s universities, prompting Tad Perry’s statement that such was attempting to solve a problem that didn’t exist in SD. As a concession faculty were required by the SDBOR to add a statement to their syllabi to the effect that students had recourse if their reasoned views were being shut down.

    All of which goes to show that Noem is troddling out worn out issues, proof she’s fifteen years behind the times when it comes to higher education in the state and nation, and proof of her capture in anachronistic groupthink.

  2. David Newquist 2021-01-13

    The first problem with that survey is that it is self-selecting. It was emailed to 23,563 students and received 3,554 responses, a rate of 15%. There was no way to assess if the responses represented a cross section of the actual student body. The second problem is that the questions are phrased in a leading manner and provoke a political focus that is not relevant to a higher education classroom. In how many science, social science, or humanities courses does the political preferences of faculty and students even come up in the conduct and performance evaluation of the class? Excepting for a few ideologue professors, the concern is the accurate and skillful handling of course materials, not the political attitudes with which they are perceived. In courses that cover politics, the focus would be on how they affected the social context, not on what the professor or students might prefer.

    It would be likely that the respondents were motivated to answer by personal disgruntlements with courses in which they did not perform well or with which they are smitten for some individual reason. Whoever designed the survey apparently never encountered any materials on testing and evaluation for higher education. The results may be indicative and used as a preliminary basis for designing and administering a survey that meets the scientific standards for polling and surveying attitudes–which are constantly in a state of flux, especially on a college campus.

  3. o 2021-01-13

    Those who do not learn history are destined to repeat it?

    The real issue is the confusion of fact and opinion. People can have a wealth of opinions, even come to different conclusions from looking at facts, but you do not get to create your own objective truth.

    ps the Bible is not a Science textbook.

  4. Donald Pay 2021-01-13

    South Dakota has a long and sad history of NOT allowing intellectual diversity, of trying to censor faculty, of government officials hectoring and penalizing faculty for speaking out on issues of importance. SDSU faculty during the Oahe Irrigation Project fight were discriminated against in pay and other matters to try to keep them from contributing their expertise on soils and economics. All of this was perpetrated on faculty by Democratic and Republican governors, the Board of Regents, various Presidents of Universities, and the Legislature. This forced groupthink did not end at the university doors. It extended into the media, which failed to cover the growing Oahe controversy for years, which censored and slanted stories when it finally could no longer ignore it. In South Dakota, the real story came from the Volante, the student newspaper at USD, and that did not sit well with the government censors. Of course, this is not the white-washed history of South Dakota Noem wants in her propagandize history and civics lessons nor does she care to encourage real intellectual diversity.

    Yes, intellectual repression has been and is a problem in South Dakota, whether it is schools or government, but it starts with government officials trying to impose groupthink through government decrees, such as the ones we see from Noem and the Legislature.

  5. Dicta 2021-01-13

    What David Newquist said. Further, I suspect responses are coming from a subset of the school. I highly doubt STEM students have any concerns about “intellectual diversity” when doing rates of change in their Calc classes. I suspect the crux of the argument centers around courses/majors in a few departments, i.e. Poli Sci, CJUS, Soc, Psych, maybe Philo and a few others.

  6. Donald Pay 2021-01-13

    A recent effort by conservative pushers of groupthink is to attack critical race theory, which had been developed and discussed for decades in academic settings. In a fit of conservative anti-intellectual diversity, conservatives want it all jettisoned from schools and universities, so don’t be surprised if a bill mill generated bill or resolution gets foisted onto the SD Legislature. I follow the Heritage Foundation, a conservative groupthink tank, and they are pushing for a purge of critical race theory. There is at least one faculty member in a South Dakota University who lists critical race theory as one of her academic interests, so expect a purge there So, no, they want the kind of “intellectual diversity” you get at a Heritage Foundation seminar, which is precisely none.

  7. happy camper 2021-01-13

    But when you’ve been indoctrinated, the whole point is you don’t know. Do Trumpsters know they are in a cult? If you have Netflix Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath is eye-opening and worth watching. I’ve been pushing on your bubble for years without any success!!!

  8. happy camper 2021-01-13

    If you want to honestly challenge yourself, listen to Douglas Murray, Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying, James Lindsay, Helen Puckrose, and Peter Boghossian (from the grievance studies affair) and then get back to us.

  9. happy camper 2021-01-14

    Other relevant sources are Greg Lukianoff and Jonathon Haidt who wrote “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.” If you don’t want to read their books, watch their YouTube videos. These are liberal people who realized “unbounded tolerance” or anything near it is dangerous.

  10. Donald Pay 2021-01-14

    I think Happy thinks we’re all indoctrinated. Yes, we have been, through years of happy talk about what a great country we have, while people escalate from years of microaggression to, oh, kneeling on a black man’s neck until the last breath leaves him, and etc., etc. It’s not so much that microaggressions are the big problem, but if they aren’t addressed, they may fester in both the microaggressor and the person they are directed to. And that’s when the match is lit. I’m NOT tolerant, never have been, but what I’m intolerant about is injustice, hurtful speech directed at someone, and nincompoops who try to excuse hateful behavior.

  11. happy camper 2021-01-14

    Oh, the slippery slope, that used to be a right-wing excuse, but it’s just not true. Moderation, reasonableness, believing the scientific method is more important than political correctness should never go out of style. We do have a great country when you look back at history. Hurtful speech? Freedom of speech often feels hurtful when you think differently. There is no god, the world is flat, pick your disagreements carefully, but don’t stop healthy debate because someone’s feeling have been hurt. That defines Snowflake. Make your points and embrace other people’s right to do so.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-01-14

    Interesting point from David Newquist that even the small minority reporting affliction of intolerance for their views on campus may be a self-selecting noisy minority of complainers. It would seem likely the perception of intellectual indoctrination on campus is even less than this fizzling survey reports.

  13. happy camper 2021-01-14

    Oh goodness, google Bret Weinstein and Evergreen College. There’s never been a more liberal college than Evergreen. Who defined unbounded tolerance? These two liberal and beautiful biology professors lost their jobs because they weren’t liberal enough. Dare to challenge yourself.

  14. Donald Pay 2021-01-14

    Happy, I have a long-time friend on the faculty of Evergreen State College. He actually spent time in South Dakota fighting uranium mining back in early late 70s. He and some other faculty wrote an article explaining the real events that occurred. Needless to say, your information about the series of events are not the ones you imagine.

    Here’s a link to the facts:

    https://www.huffpost.com/entry/evergreen-state-college-another-side_b_598cd293e4b090964295e8fc

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