When academic institutions refuse to permit dissenting voices, they do not only hurt the dissenters. They also damage the quality of the education they provide, even for those who agree with the prevailing view. John Ellis, President of the California Association of Scholars and Professor Emeritus of German Literature at UC Santa Cruz, explains this downward spiral in a statement submitted to the California Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Master Plan for Higher Education:
The clearest indication of how serious the lack of intellectual diversity has become is the state of Political Science departments in the University of California. Surveys have found that many of them are almost exclusively staffed by professors who are politically left of center. In any department, this would be regrettable, and suspicious. But in a politics department, the lack of intellectual diversity in political thought raises a serious question of competence. Departments that exclude one half of the spectrum of thought in their field are simply incompetent departments. They can’t provide students with a challenging intellectual environment where they learn to think for themselves, and know that whatever position they take, they will have to face tough scrutiny from contrary opinion. One has to wonder: what kind of professor of politics would want a department like that? And how did we come to appoint them? If accountability is your concern, why not ask those simple questions of the university?
Let me be quite clear: my concern here has nothing to do with being fair to conservatives. . . . It’s a far more serious matter than that, and it should concern everyone, whatever their political opinions. It’s about the dumbing down of education. One-sided departments can’t educate. John Stuart Mill put the point best when he said: “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.” What Mill is saying here is that you don’t really understand the case for the left until you also thoroughly grasp the case for the right, because the one is an answer to the other and so each is a necessary part of understanding the other. If leftist professors think they can simply present the other side’s case themselves, Mill had this devastating response: “Both teachers and learners go to sleep at their post as soon as there is no enemy in the field.” And for that reason, he went on to say, the student must “be able to hear [the arguments] from people who actually believe them, who defend them in earnest, and do their very utmost for them. He must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”
If you follow this thought, you’ll see that it is not just the side that is excluded that suffers. In fact, the side that does the excluding suffers the most intellectually. A political monoculture sooner or later always degenerates into extremism and incoherence, because it needs an opposition to keep it healthy. Only your intellectual enemies have the motivation to pick off your weaker arguments and keep you intellectually sharp. The proof of this proposition is there for anyone to see. The general public has a very low opinion of the campus political culture, and that is exactly what we should expect to be the fate of any political monoculture. A lack of intellectual diversity hurts both left and right.
Due to the lack of intellectual diversity, Professor Ellis went on to describe the University of California system as “the most degraded campus climate I have seen in my lifetime.” Given that Professor Ellis has been teaching at UC Santa Cruz since 1966, that says something.