What is Intellectual Diversity, and Why Does it Matter?

What is Intellectual Diversity

Fostering intellectual diversity means creating a pluralistic academic environment that encourages curiosity, open minds, and the free exchange of ideas.” – Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright

According to Debra Mashek, executive director of Heterodox Academy, “Intellectual diversity exists when learners ask questions and approach problems from a range of perspectives.”

Institute for Humane Studies president Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright speaks with Mashek and explores the role of intellectual diversity on campus in her latest Forbes column.

It’s important to note what intellectual diversity does not mean, Dr. Chamlee-Wright says. “Fostering intellectual diversity does not mean rationing out ‘equal time’ for progressive and conservative talking points, as if equal exposure to the two dominant political parties is the sine qua non of educational quality.”

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Rather, she writes, “Fostering intellectual diversity means creating a pluralistic academic environment that encourages curiosity, open minds, and the free exchange of ideas.”

Why is intellectual diversity so crucial for higher education—particularly for liberal arts colleges? Dr. Chamlee-Wright looks at a Georgetown University study on the return on investment (ROI) from a liberal arts education.  At the ten-year mark, the median liberal arts ROI is lower than the median for all schools; however, the forty-year liberal arts ROI is significantly higher. She writes:

Perhaps it’s because the best-performing liberal arts institutions are delivering on the promise of what a liberal education is supposed to be—an education that frees the mind to think beyond the immediately practical, to embrace the abstract, and to challenge accepted wisdom. To pursue a liberal education is to develop intellectual agency—a deep sense of confidence—that allows us to bear the responsibilities and enjoy the fruits of living in a free society.

– Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright

Intellectual diversity is a fundamental part of this promise, Dr. Chamlee-Wright explains. Only when students are introduced to multiple points of view can they develop the capacity to interrogate their own knowledge and assumptions. She writes:

When we are introduced to multiple points of view, when we see the same information through a different lens, we become practiced at interrogating our own knowledge and assumptions. This, in turn, allows us to navigate uncharted intellectual territory and make genuine discoveries—creative, scientific, philosophical, and entrepreneurial discoveries that drive individual success and social progress.

– Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright
Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright

If liberal arts colleges are becoming less and less intellectually diverse, that presents a serious problem—not just for those whose views aren’t represented by faculty, but for all students.

Read the full Forbes column. For additional pieces by Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright, browse her Medium page.

See more posts: IdeasOp-ed 

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