This month I began work on a new engagement project funded by the Heterodox Academy. In the coming weeks and months I’ll be speaking with – and working with – higher education scholars and stakeholders on how to make viewpoint diversity more visible on Australian university campuses. On many questions, scholars will always differ on at least some points. And on some, they may subscribe to schools of thought that are starkly at odds.
A premise of this project is that campus rules or norms that enable the practice of intolerance to prevent lawful free expression of opinion may restrict student learning, scholarly inquiry, or both. On some topics, peer intolerance may also put at risk the well-being of students or staff with minority viewpoints. And at a system level, making otherwise debatable topics undiscussable goes against the main mission of higher learning institutions: to seek and spread and settle truth and knowledge reliably.
A second premise is that on complex matters, conflicting doctrines persist in part because none is entirely true or false: they “share the truth between them”.
A third premise is that in liberal democracies, competing views on many matters of public interest have become highly polarised. In social media forums, commentators who denounce all who disagree as the enemy often render the substantive issues, on which others may differ in good faith and for relevant reasons, undiscussable.
In higher learning institutions, a key task for scholars and students is to find ways to “disagree well” on their topics of study, the problems they encounter among peers and colleagues, or the issues of the day.
Three main tasks will support this new project:
- April-May: Interviews with up to 20 people (via Zoom)
- May: Two seminars/workshops to discuss issues and options (via Zoom)
- June: A discussion paper. This will canvas issues and options for promoting greater viewpoint diversity visibility in Australian higher learning contexts.
In the course of the project I expect to examine:
- current and emerging challenges in this area at the policy and practice levels
- ideas for improving policy and/or practice in the promotion of free inquiry and open exchange as defining values in Australian higher learning contexts.
The main themes, from leadership, staff and/or student perspectives, are:
- Formal policy settings and administrative arrangements. For example, institutional responses to the 2019 French Review of freedom of speech in Australian higher education. Or, public controversies where commitments to free inquiry and open exchange may conflict with duties of care for the well-being of students and staff.
- Frameworks, toolkits and practitioner support in teaching and learning and student engagement and/or public engagement. For example, how lecturers and tutors promote open discussion with their students. How best to help them deal with hot topics on which views are polarised? Or with controversies that arise on campus or in media forums?
With support from colleagues, I’ve been receiving suggestions for further reading. And adding to my list of people to contact (soon!) about interviews.
Those interested in participating, or suggesting others well placed to do so, can contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Meanwhile, my thanks to Heterodox Academy for accepting me as a member. And for providing financial support for this project.
Further reading from this author
Heterodox Academy is a nonpartisan collaborative of 5,000+ professors, educators, administrators, staff, and students who are committed to enhancing the quality of research and education by promoting open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement in institutions of higher learning.
This project, Building Viewpoint Diversity Visibility in Australian Universities, is supported in full by Heterodox Academy. The ability for HxA to provide Grants for HxCommunities events and other activities are made possible in full through the support of the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed at these events (or through such activities) are those of the individual Grantees, organizers, speakers, presenters, and attendees of such events/ activities and do not necessarily reflect the views of Heterodox Academy and/or the John Templeton Foundation.