In recent years, dangerous trends and ideas about speech have been spilling from academia into the world beyond campus. Walking on eggshells, exercising extreme caution about respecting taboos, reporting colleagues for jokes overheard, and deflecting substantive arguments with ad hominem counterattacks may soon be common features of corporate and community life. College-bound students who want to master those skills can choose from a wide range of America’s top schools.
But perhaps you (and your kids) would prefer a different kind of academic culture: one that exposes students to a variety of views, teaches them skills of critical thinking so they learn to habitually ground claims in evidence, and emboldens them to speak up for what they think is true, good, and beautiful, while being open to arguments from their peers that they just might be wrong. If that’s what you’re seeking, you’ve come to the right place.
At Heterodox Academy, we’ve had a front row seat for the recent trials and tribulations of American higher education. We are an organization of more than 2,500 professors who believe that viewpoint diversity and freedom of inquiry are essential components of a good academic culture. We’ve spoken with dozens of college presidents and administrators about their efforts to broaden students’ minds and promote constructive disagreement. We have found that the great majority of presidents value free speech and open inquiry, but many face obstacles in translating those values into policies and implementing those policies into practices that shape culture.
Below we highlight 10 schools that stand out from the crowd, listed in alphabetical order. These are schools—large and small, public and private—where evidence suggests that students will have better odds of developing the habits of heart and mind necessary to thrive in a world of complexity, nuance, and difference.
Arizona State University
With an undergraduate enrollment just north of 61,000, students looking to engage with people who think differently than they do will surely find willing others here. ASU counts 24 members of Heterodox Academy among its faculty and administration, tied for the second highest total across the country. Its new School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership recently ran a speaker series on polarization and civil disagreement.
OpenMind, a free interactive platform designed to depolarize communities and foster mutual understanding, has been deployed by five professors in 13 courses on campus since 2017. Data collected by College Pulse show that 67 percent of the 2,575 ASU students surveyed feel that freedom of speech is secure on their campus, and 88 percent agreed that the ASU administration values free speech. Among a subsample of 918 students, 24 percent self-identify as libertarian.
ASU is also home to BridgeASU, one of the first chapters of BridgeUSA, a student organization that “create[s] an environment where students can come together and share their political views in a place where all views are accepted, but challenged.The goal is for everyone to figure out what they truly believe and to become more understanding of those with differing opinions by challenging and exposing ourselves to an open way of thinking.” BridgeASU hosts events such as a round-robin discussion that drew 175 people interested in hearing fresh perspectives on a range of political topics. The desert air seems hospitable to open inquiry.
Chapman President Daniele Struppa is an outspoken advocate of academic freedom and freedom of speech. In fall 2018, for example, a member of the Chapman faculty invited to class Max Landis, a screenwriter and producer accused of sexual assault. Students objected on moral grounds. In an op-ed piece published in the Chapman student newspaper, Struppa, alongside Dean of Students Jerry Price and Chief Information Officer Helen Norris, defended faculty members’ right to invite to class any speaker who will advance the class goals, writing, “The price of having academic freedom is that sometimes we will have speech we detest, or speakers we despise. We can’t have one without the other.”
Seventeen members of the Chapman faculty, including Struppa, are also members of Heterodox Academy. Many are involved in high-profile efforts, including the Economic Science Institute (which examines the role human institutions play in creating social rules and order and also builds and tests market and management systems) and the Smith Institute for Political Economy and Philosophy (which integrates humanities and economics). Chapman was among the first five institutional adopters of the Chicago Principles, which outline an institution’s specific commitments to protecting free speech and free expression.
Claremont McKenna College
A small, private residential college, Claremont McKenna stands out among liberal arts schools for its administration’s commitment to open inquiry. In April 2017, shortly after protesters blocked others’ access to hear a speaker, both the dean and the president released statements affirming the community’s right to hear views and engage with controversial ideas.
Voter registration research conducted by Mitchell Langbert suggests a 3.7-to-1 ratio of Democrats to Republicans among tenured and tenure-track faculty members, making it a much more ideologically balanced faculty than on most other campuses included in the study. (For the sake of comparison, the overall average across all 51 top liberal arts institutions included in Langbert’s study was 12.7-to-1, with extreme outliers ranging from 120-to-1 to 136-to-1.) Nine members of the CMC faculty, including the academic dean, are members of Heterodox Academy. Students likely will take courses with professors who hold a variety of political views and who value open inquiry. Impressively, this small campus welcomes more than 100 ideologically diverse speakers each year to its Athenaeum, the campus hub of intellectual engagement.
The college’s new Open Academy initiative, which comes with a $20 million price tag and a 10-year commitment, will further enable students to develop the intellectual and social skills needed to express themselves, debate with respect, and listen actively. In addition, supported by a significant grant from the Mellon Foundation, professors from different ideological vantage points co-teach courses, providing students with models for—and practice at—developing a common understanding of critical issues. In fall 2018, Jon Shields, a CMC professor of government, and Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology at Pitzer College, co-taught a class titled “The University Blacklist” in which students read the books of controversial speakers before coming to a position on the scholars’ ideas.
Kansas State University
According to College Pulse, 90 percent of the 332 K-State students surveyed agreed with the statement, “In general, my school’s administration values free speech.” Seventy percent felt that freedom of speech is secure on their campus. These are positive indicators of a campus community engaged with ideas and each other, and they suggest that the values espoused in the school’s freedom of expression statement are manifest on campus.
In addition to a reasonably balanced voter registration ratio of 4.9 Democrats to each Republican, seven members of the K-State faculty are members of Heterodox Academy. And among a small sample of 95 students surveyed by College Pulse, 26 percent self-identified as libertarian.
K-State is home to the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy, whose mission is “to build community capacity for informed, engaged, civil deliberation” with a vision for “stronger democracy through enhanced public deliberation.” K-State offers undergraduates the opportunity to earn a Primary Texts Certificate by taking “courses emphasizing original works instead of textbooks,” akin to a minor in Great Books.